Thursday, February 28, 2008

"The Ones We Have Been Waiting For"

After the last Clinton-Obama debate, which I missed, I heard from several friends about how disappointing Barack's position was on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I also heard and read Obama's comments about Minister Farrakhan, an apparent "Sista Souljah" moment for Barack.

I don't like the idea that Obama feels he must first assure everyone that Israel's security is a concern that trumps all other considerations. Maybe he doesn't actually feel that way, but it sure seems to be the case despite the fact that the dispossession of Palestinians and the occupation of Palestinian territory by Israel are: a., historical facts, b., not particularly different, morally, than the dispossesion of the American Indian, and c., problems that require a more productive response.

The relentless pressure of the pro-Israel lobby and propoganda machine has been a fact of American political life for the last sixty years. Asking a politician to resist the environment the lobby creates in the absence of a movement that questions Israel's right to exist as a theocratic state is asking too much, especially in a militarized American economy that now spends hundreds of billions of dollars each year to maintain the United States and its various client states as a global empire.

Obama's comments about Farrakhan may genuinely reflect Barack's true feelings. It is just as possible that Bill Clinton's denunciation of "Sista Souljah" during one of his presidential campaigns (the second one?) was also sincere. But neither should have been necessary. It is our own racism and the jealous care we take of our privileges that provokes some politicians to venture into such unnuanced territory. Obama spoke out because failure to take a position on Farrakhan would have been interpreted as taking a position.

In any case, Obama is not "the one" we have been waiting for. We, ourselves, are "the ones," as Barack puts it. We cannot reasonably expect Obama to come equipped with a checklist of things he will do for us, or expect him to take progressive positions in advance of a true movement that will demand the action we wish to see.

I see the likely possibility of an Obama presidency as creating the largest space since Roosevelt for progressive action. But the New Deal was not a Roosevelt agenda item; instead, it happened because a movement demanded such action and Roosevelt was more open to it than any other 20th century president. I am not saying that Obama will be another Roosevelt, but he can be the 21st century Obama we make him be.

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