GABlog Generative Anthropology in the Public Sphere

March 21, 2010

Some thoughts on the Democrats’ victory on health care (with Obama’s intifada against Israel in mind as well)

Filed under: GA — adam @ 7:52 pm

“It is not enough to say, as the French do, that their nation was taken unawares. Nations and women are not forgiven the unguarded hour in which the first adventurer who came along could violate them. Such turns of speech do not solve the riddle but only formulate it differently. It remains to be explained how a nation of thirty-six millions can be surprised and delivered without resistance into captivity by three knights of industry. “
Karl Marx, The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte
Replace “French” with “Americans,” “thirty six with three hundred million,” and “three knights of industry” with “the leadership of the Democratic Party,” and Marx’s commentary serves as a perfect epitaph for the American social order, as we have known it.
Americans, as far as I can tell, voted the Republicans out of power because they were tired of such a demonized representative class—and so they voted into power the ones who had been demonizing them. Anyone can say they didn’t realize the Democrats would wreak such destruction, but, really—who did you think they were? Anyone can say they thought Obama was moderate, calm, intellectually cool, with well-creased pants; but no one ever explained what led to such assumptions, beyond his seemingly natural haughtiness and a few phrases repeated a few times in absolutely formulaic manner during the 2008 campaign. Enough people thought this adventurer was a savior, and we will not be forgiven for delivering our birthright into his captivity. Even worse, 2008 was a vanity election, perhaps the first one in American history: in the middle of an assault on democracy and liberalism by jihadist terrorism, in the midst of a global financial crisis, on the brink of an equally global entitlements debacle—enough Americans thought it was a good time for a “historic” President; that is, thought it was a good time to trivialize the electoral process to the same extent as the Academy Awards, where every year some “marginalized” group or issue must be represented. I doubt such a delusional fantasy can be forgiven.
The fight against “Obamacare” is just getting started—there is a large popular movement ready to do battle, and the Republican party has become increasingly laser-like in its focus on this catastrophe. Despite the claim that health care bills “can’t” be repealed, the claim is obviously false—this is a hybrid, confused, maybe impossible law to implement, its provisions don’t kick in for years, while the taxes appropriated start immediately; the Republican party seems poised to make huge gains in November’s election; it is vulnerable on various constitutional grounds and can be resisted in myriad ways by states and individuals alike.
And yet, at the end of the day, the American people elected the Democrats and Obama. There’s no point to being “pessimistic” about the struggle against American socialism, but only a deep sickness or, to use a word associated with one of Obama’s predecessors, “malaise,” can account for that—a very deep desire to check out of history, to set up one’s own schedule of “significant” events (2008, the first black President; 2016, the first woman; 2024, the first gay; perhaps by 2032 we can get back to electing real Presidents again). I’ve seen little discussion of this facet of our contemporary crisis—it seems to me extremely difficult to uproot such fantasy worlds (9/11, in the end, seems to have simply reinforced it), and even a substantial minority (I would guess about 35% involved in or sympathetic to the Tea Party movement) trying to return us to reality can be easily scapegoated if that basic desire remains entrenched. Nor is that minority itself free of some of those fantasies—much of the Tea Party movement seems to want a return to the normal welfare state of a few years ago, but I believe that any swing in that direction will go well beyond its mark, towards something we have thought little about: freedom. Who is not terrified of that at this point?

UPDATE:  I notice that William Kristol has also used Marx’s text to describe the “farce” of Obamacare:  Interestingly, he doesn’t cite the words I use as an epigraph to this post.  Kristol is an endearingly persistent optimist.

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