The Obama Fallacy

PHOTO: Barack Obama

“There’s a mighty big difference between good, sound reasons and reasons that sound good” — Burton Hillis

Super Tuesday was an important day in the ongoing charade — namely, the one that’s sometimes laughingly referred to as an election. Voters — those who bothered to show up — chose between pre-approved candidates, none of whom will actually bring the kind of change this country wants and needs.

Expect our would-be presidents, with the training of the finest public relations people money can buy, to continue paying lip-service to the sentiments of change as they collect their big money contributions and explain to us why they should be our leaders (as opposed to our representatives). And, of course, the media will keep lapping it up, covering the day-to-day back and forth as if it has any more significance than the latest “Man bites dog” story.

For the Republicans, John McCain won big, but no serious observers of the 2008 farce regard his hawkish policies as anything different than what we’ve seen for the last … well, for a long time now.

For the Democrats, it was a close race between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Big business, the big shots of the Democratic Party (the “super” delegates) and the military have come out in support of Clinton, which means she’ll be beholden to them if elected. Her election as President would also put either a Bush or a Clinton on the winning ticket 32 years in a row – clearly a sign of real change.

And then there’s the great hope – Barack Hussein Obama. Sometimes I wonder how a single human can embody so much hope and change and unity. When his supporters talk about him, you can almost see their heads tilt and their eyelashes flutter; they seem beyond reach.

But let me sneak in a word if I may. Obama, precisely because of all his lofty pronouncements about change, is the biggest disappointment of them all. If he – and his supporters – would merely acknowledge that he is only slightly better than Clinton, there wouldn’t be any problem. Instead, we hear how he’s reminiscent of John F. Kennedy (an overrated, militaristic president from the 60s) and how he’s what we’ve all been waiting for.

If one can slog through the thick, empty rhetoric and decipher his positions, he or she will find some problems:

  • He actually wants to expand the military.
  • He is heavily funded (read: controlled) by Wall Street. 90% of his funding comes from 10% of his supporters.

Also, this from the Boston Globe: “In Obama’s eight years in the Illinois Senate, from 1996 to 2004, almost two-thirds of the money he raised for his campaigns – $296,000 of $461,000 – came from PACs, corporate contributions, or unions, according to Illinois Board of Elections records. He tapped financial services firms, real estate developers, healthcare providers, oil companies, and many other corporate interests, the records show.”

  • His advisers, such as his top man – Zbigniew Brzezinski – have been participants in several US-fueled atrocities. Brzezinski, for instance, boasted that he created the Afghan resistance (which spawned Osama bin Laden).
  • He’s an AIPAC flatterer and talks little about the oppression of the Palestinians.
  • His health care plan would insure fewer Americans than Hillary’s; it does not require coverage.
  • He claims to oppose the occupation of Iraq but has voted several times to fund it in capitulation to the GOP-spun lie that cutting funding would leave the troops without shoes in the desert. He also wants to leave “residual forces” in country.
  • He’s threatened Iran with military action. Ditto for Pakistan.
  • He doesn’t talk about corporate welfare and corporate crime.
  • He does not support legalization of marijuana for recreational use and calls it a “slippery slope.”
  • He hasn’t expressed serious opposition to the War on Drugs.

In other words, he doesn’t speak for me.

The sad reality is that the system filters out and marginalizes candidates who represent the interests of the American people. And, until that’s fixed, we’ll be voting for the least-worst and trying to delude ourselves into thinking that this time real change will come.

Flickr photo by Mr. Wright

11 Comments

  1. Ian

    Well, lets just say that supporting the legalization of marijuana might not represent the interests of the American people. While you may like to smoke up, the average American may not. However you feel about pot, it isn’t all safe and healthy, and yes I know alcohol and tobacco aren’t either. Moving on…

    I actually had a similar conversation with my girlfriend last night. She was going on about how dumb it is to vote for a leader based upon their charisma. I have mixed feelings about it. I certainly wouldn’t vote for a candidate cause I thought they seemed like an average Joe, which is what many did when they voted for Bush over Kerry and Gore. At the same time, I see Al Gore as a pretty egotistical guy, which would make me hesitate to vote for him. I think Obama likes to cast himself in the mold of a guy like JFK or FDR (would he be BHO?), but he isn’t the same. Both JFK and FDR were stronger and more charismatic leaders who went with the time they were leading during. We aren’t having a Great Depression or a Cold War. Iraq pales in comparison to people fearing about the destruction of the entire planet by nuclear war. Obama talks about change, and he makes great speeches, but like you say, he won’t bring that change because the current world doesn’t require it.

    Regardless of all of this, your problem is with the American public and not with the candidates themselves. People are stupid and vote down party lines. If there weren’t people supporting these candidates, they would never get a shot. Its just how it is. And their campaign policies are geared towards what will get them votes. So if you don’t like it, don’t blame the candidate.

  2. Cameron

    Clint-

    I largely agree with your conclusion, if not with your personal gripes — but we’re of different ideological stripes.

    But you’re smoking crack if you think the military likes Clinton. Not only is it about 6 Republicans to every Democrat, but her husband did the whole “don’t ask, don’t tell policy.” Let’s not forget that there were military officers who almost openly defied their commander and chief over that policy. A general here and there might endorse Hildog, but the military will not be voting for her, I promise you that.

  3. Chris

    If he – and his supporters – would merely acknowledge that he is only slightly better than Clinton, there wouldn’t be any problem. Instead, we hear how he’s reminiscent of John F. Kennedy (an overrated, militaristic president from the 60s) and how he’s what we’ve all been waiting for.

    This doesn’t seem like a fair criticism. How is he supposed to generate enthusiasm by saying that he’s slightly better than Clinton? And the JFK comparison is not about his policies, but about his ability to inspire.

    He is heavily funded (read: controlled) by Wall Street. 90% of his funding comes from 10% of his supporters.

    In a multimillion dollar campaign, it is going to be tough to avoid getting contributions from people with lots of money. That’s going to be true of any campaign that garners large support.

    I do, however, think your second bulleted list is fair. It’d be nice to have at least some different opinions on those issues from the top candidates (aside from health care). But that’s a larger problem.

    At least, in terms of foreign policy, his advisors were generally against the Iraq war, and Hillary’s were for it.

    The sad reality is that the system filters out and marginalizes candidates who represent the interests of the American people. And, until that’s fixed, we’ll be voting for the least-worst and trying to delude ourselves into thinking that this time real change will come.

    I don’t think that drastic change is likely to come from outside the current system without some sort of revolution, and things will have to get a hell of a lot worse before we see one of those. I do think it’s possible, at least, to bring the country back from the insanity that Bush & co. have plunged us into. It’s a real question who between Clinton and Obama is more likely to achieve that result. In my opinion, at least Obama talks the talk.

  4. Clint

    Ian,

    “While you may like to smoke up, the average American may not.”

    It doesn’t have much significance to me personally. Rather, it’s a point about personal freedom. And it’s a symbol of how he represents the same-old thinking. In this case, politics trumps science with regard to legalization policies of alcohol, tobacco and marijuana.

    “Obama talks about change, and he makes great speeches, but like you say, he won’t bring that change because the current world doesn’t require it.”

    I didn’t quite say that. He won’t bring significant change, but I believe the world desperately needs it.

    “your problem is with the American public and not with the candidates themselves.”

    It’s with the political system itself — and yes, on the people for not acting to change it. It’s also on Obama for posing as something he’s not. But I don’t think it’s a matter of stupidity. People are given pre-approved options and propagandized into playing a passive role in their democracy.

    Cameron,

    I wasn’t clear, sorry. When I said the military I more meant the defense industry, which is firmly in her camp.
    http://politicalinquirer.com/2007/10/19/hillary-clinton-receives-the-largest-number-of-military-donationsfrom-the-defense-industry/

    Chris,

    “This doesn’t seem like a fair criticism. How is he supposed to generate enthusiasm by saying that he’s slightly better than Clinton? And the JFK comparison is not about his policies, but about his ability to inspire.”

    Easy; he can generate enthusiasm by actually having an inspiring platform and not just spouting a lot of hot air.

    “In a multimillion dollar campaign, it is going to be tough to avoid getting contributions from people with lots of money. That’s going to be true of any campaign that garners large support.”

    I agree, and that’s my point. The system prevents change by, among other things, requiring the backing of the moneyed interests. Coming to the conclusion that Obama will not bring real change is primarily an exercise in deductive reasoning.

    “I don’t think that drastic change is likely to come from outside the current system without some sort of revolution, and things will have to get a hell of a lot worse before we see one of those.”

    A revolution is not required to change the system — change happens all the time simply through people taking an active role in their democracy. I have no gripes with voting for Obama over Clinton; my problem is with the passivity involved in accepting the choices we’ve been given and not making demands of the candidates so that they become more responsive to the people.

  5. Ian

    Clint, you keep saying this whole deal about “choices we are given”, but these are really choices we have made. Somewhere along the way, someone voted Obama to be a state legislator, and then a senator, and now people are voting for him to be the Democratic nominee. Its not like he came from nowhere and the party just paraded him out in front of us and said “Here is your guy”. Obama wants to be President, and there are people who genuinely want him to be President. Some people feel he does represent their beliefs. Complain all you want about our political system (I think its awful too by the way), but it has slowly evolved over time into what it is through the votes of the American people. We made this machine, so to come and say it doesn’t represent us is a little off I think.

  6. Clint

    Ian,

    It’s kind of like when Colbert has guests on his show and he asks, with a straight face, “Iraq. Great war or greatest war?”

    Yes, our dear leaders are chosen by us, but there are enormous obstacles to becoming a “viable” contender — such as the media, ballot access, financing, etc. They are very much pre-selected in this sense.

  7. Ian

    And a media group can only thrive if theres someone watching their channel or reading their publications. A candidate can only get campaign money if a lobbying group or a whole lot of individuals donate to them. If a giant corporation donates money to a campaign, the question then becomes where did said corporation get the money to donate? It all traces back to the people. Its a system that events of history and the American people have created. You act like there is someone pulling the strings behind the scences, and I don’t think the whole process is so nefarious.

    Take a more cynical way of looking at it. Our legislators love to debate stupid divisive issues and never actually make any real progress. Raising taxes and taking care of the poor are generally looked down upon. Our diverse nation is mostly represented by a bunch of old crusty white guys. So translate it back to the American people: We ourselves are petty and can’t see past divisive issues like abortion and gay marriage so we choose to debate them until we are blue in the face rather than actually make some sort of social progress. We are greedy. We are racist. You can keep going, but I feel that a lot of the ills in the government today are just manifestations of the ills in our society.

  8. Clint

    “And a media group can only thrive if theres someone watching their channel or reading their publications.”

    Right. So do you feel the same way about Ticketmaster and ClearChannel? The media are becoming more and more consolidated with fewer restrictions on how they can monopolize the airwaves. Yes, people tune in, but again they only have certain mainstream choices, particularly on TV. People can search for alternative media and they do, but it requires a bit of work.

    “If a giant corporation donates money to a campaign, the question then becomes where did said corporation get the money to donate? It all traces back to the people. Its a system that events of history and the American people have created. You act like there is someone pulling the strings behind the scences, and I don’t think the whole process is so nefarious.”

    That’s ridiculous. Are you implying that it’s somehow democratic if I buy a Chevy and then Chevy gives money to John McCain’s campaign? Corporations are authoritarian structures which are often unresponsive to the people and to laws; they are NOT democratically run.

    This system was created by rich white slave owners, and we’ve been working to make it more democratic ever since. The unfortunate reality is that the people do not run the country right now; it’s run by and for elites. This is not anything controversial; it’s taken for granted in political science that there are decision-makers with interests often distinct from the general population.

    “We ourselves are petty and can’t see past divisive issues like abortion and gay marriage so we choose to debate them until we are blue in the face rather than actually make some sort of social progress.”

    I’m not sure what you’re reading. The polls right now suggest that the economy, Iraq, healthcare are the top voter concerns.

    “We are greedy. We are racist. You can keep going, but I feel that a lot of the ills in the government today are just manifestations of the ills in our society.”

    Sure we are, and to some extent I agree. But I see a big difference between the governors and the governed, and I think it’s pretty well reinforced.

  9. Ian

    “Right. So do you feel the same way about Ticketmaster and ClearChannel? The media are becoming more and more consolidated with fewer restrictions on how they can monopolize the airwaves. Yes, people tune in, but again they only have certain mainstream choices, particularly on TV. People can search for alternative media and they do, but it requires a bit of work.”

    If by “a bit of work” you mean go to BBC.com, CNN.com, etc and just filter past the trivial celebrity news. Its not that hard to find real news away from television and if you honestly gave a damn putting in the effort to learn about candidates really isn’t that hard. Just type their name in Google and there ya go. But you ignore the fact that people just don’t give a damn.

    “That’s ridiculous. Are you implying that it’s somehow democratic if I buy a Chevy and then Chevy gives money to John McCain’s campaign?”

    I don’t think I ever said anything about it being a truly democratic process. But it is the responsibility of a consumer to understand that the money they give a company can be used for political purposes. If there is something in government you are particularly against, you should probably make sure you don’t indirectly support it by buying products from a company that does.

    “I’m not sure what you’re reading. The polls right now suggest that the economy, Iraq, healthcare are the top voter concerns.”

    Voter concerns are a very different thing than actual opinions and things that people genuinely give a shit about. Look at how much attention Britney Spears, Heath Ledger, Roger Clemens, etc etc are getting. Look at the Paris Hilton nonsense that was so big, and Anna Nicole Smith, Jon Benet, Natalee Holloway. I could keep going but you get my point. People honestly care more about that trash than a real debate on healthcare. You know just as everyone else does that voter turnout is pathetic in this country. People are generally apathetic and you only see the opinions of a highly opinionated group in the news (those who actually do vote). And I recall Iraq being a big deal in the last election too, but I don’t see any changes from that election really, and its not like the war was popular then.

    “This system was created by rich white slave owners, and we’ve been working to make it more democratic ever since. The unfortunate reality is that the people do not run the country right now; it’s run by and for elites. This is not anything controversial; it’s taken for granted in political science that there are decision-makers with interests often distinct from the general population.”

    I had a political conversation recently where someone made the statement, “I don’t want to be asked to make the decisions. I would rather leave the decision making to someone smarter.” You can say what you want about that statement, but I think the general idea is one that many share: Someone smart, someone successful should be our leader, not some dumb failure. You can’t realistically expect some average Joe to end up being the most powerful man/woman in the world. I don’t understand what you want. I’m not saying the rich should lead, but in the current system its just how its going to be. You can’t run a campaign without money and connections in this country. I don’t defend it, but thats just how the whole system has evolved to work.

  10. Clint

    “If by “a bit of work” you mean go to BBC.com, CNN.com, etc and just filter past the trivial celebrity news.”

    Haha, well I consider CNN and the BBC (to a lesser extent) to be precisely the problem with the news — same for the NY Times, Washington Post, Tribune, LA Times, ABC/Fox/NBC/NBC and right on down the corporate news line. Celebrity news is a distraction, but the real problem is with news organizations that pretend to be substantive and objective and, you know, not huge corporations trying to make profits by selling ads.

    “But you ignore the fact that people just don’t give a damn.”

    It’s more complicated than that. People are beaten down by their jobs where they work more and make less, and they’re exhausted by their busy schedules in general. Not everyone has the privilege to sit around and spend the necessary time to find out what’s being hidden from them. On top of that, they don’t believe the news, they find its coverage of serious issues too trivial (data for this is easily available) and they don’t have any trust in the political system — rightly so. So it’s not that people “don’t give a damn.”

    “I don’t think I ever said anything about it being a truly democratic process.”

    It’s not a democratic process in the slightest.

    “People honestly care more about that trash than a real debate on healthcare. You know just as everyone else does that voter turnout is pathetic in this country.”

    It is pathetic, but again I think that’s because people know voting between two pre-approved candidates is pretty insignificant. There’s an old saying, “If voting made any difference, they’d make it illegal.” While I don’t agree it makes no difference, that pretty much captures the essence of it.

    “And I recall Iraq being a big deal in the last election too, but I don’t see any changes from that election really, and its not like the war was popular then.”

    I don’t follow your point on this.

    “You can’t realistically expect some average Joe to end up being the most powerful man/woman in the world. I don’t understand what you want. I’m not saying the rich should lead, but in the current system its just how its going to be. You can’t run a campaign without money and connections in this country. I don’t defend it, but thats just how the whole system has evolved to work.”

    Obviously I don’t want illiterate Joe from the meat market running the country – but that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be able to run. All I want is for there to be some semblance of equal access to the presidency. There are plenty of bright people out there who would make better representatives than any of these clowns in Washington right now but there are simply too many barriers: money, media, ballot access, party restrictions, electoral college, uncontested district lines and so on. That’s completely undemocratic.

    “but in the current system its just how its going to be. You can’t run a campaign without money and connections in this country. I don’t defend it, but thats just how the whole system has evolved to work.”

    It doesn’t have to be that way. That’s where we come in.

  11. Ian

    “It’s more complicated than that. People are beaten down by their jobs where they work more and make less, and they’re exhausted by their busy schedules in general. Not everyone has the privilege to sit around and spend the necessary time to find out what’s being hidden from them. On top of that, they don’t believe the news, they find its coverage of serious issues too trivial (data for this is easily available) and they don’t have any trust in the political system — rightly so. So it’s not that people “don’t give a damn.””

    Alright, so let’s just say these issues aren’t high on their mental priority lists. “Don’t give a damn” is an expression that leaves some gray I think about how much people care so there’s some clarification. But really, Iraq isn’t something that the majority of Americans lose sleep over. I don’t really see it as a privilege to have the time to go to CNN.com and click the link to international news or whatever. It takes really all of like 2 minutes to sit down and get away from front page news. And like I said, just Google anything you want to know about and you can get all sorts of opinions with all sorts of bias so you can get an idea for yourself. It really isn’t hard.

    And just because you don’t trust your government doesn’t mean other don’t as well. They might believe the news. You can’t make statements about others opinions without some data to back it up.

    “That’s completely undemocratic.”

    You keep saying this about a lot of things, and I feel inclined to break out the old cliche “It’s not a democracy, it’s a republic.” Hell we don’t even elect the President officially, its the Electoral College. The whole system is archaic and full of weird rules and traditions. Just look at the primaries, look at super delegates and how the whole system can vary dramatically state to state. So yeah, I will agree with you to some extent that the government does not represent the people completely. That said, the people do have some influence on the government and if it doesn’t represent the people completely, it isn’t incredibly far off.

    “It doesn’t have to be that way. That’s where we come in.”

    I really like IBM’s latest ad campaign where they basically say “Stop talking about innovation, and start doing”. So what do you suggest be done? I think that without revolution, you aren’t going to see many drastic changes in this government. The bureaucracy has just become too large and unwieldy to be changed in any small time scale. The “system” you are going on about is pretty darn strong and has a lot of momentum. There are really only a couple ways to change the whole deal: Through votes, through lobbying, through revolution, and through becoming part of the system. Votes are probably the least effective way to bring about any sort of change, and I think that seems to be one of your main gripes. Lobbying is pretty effective, but it can cross into unethical when you are basically buying a candidate or just have a small group annoy the crap out of them until they do something that maybe the majority of their constituency doesn’t agree with. Plus, with lobbying it becomes difficult I think to lobby for something that isn’t a real specific cause. Revolution, well, that takes a ton of unrest and people coming together and it doesn’t always end up with a change for the better. So if you want to be ethical and you want to make a real change, all I can see that you can really do is run for office. That means that you have to work your way up in one of the two parties, and go through all the necessary crap that that entails, and start making changes to the way the system works. Either that or you get swallowed up and just become another cog in the machine. Run for office Bubba, I’d vote for you.

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