30 June, 2008

A Nimble Dance of Diction

Here's a snappily written dissection of the "progressive dilemma."

I feel Marshall has hit on something pretty important--something about which I would especially like to hear from Elliot--namely, what it means to change the status quo.

I won't lie, I'm a pretty big fan of where he's taking this thought train. The whole thing goes back to Spence's "Obama Under the Microscope," but I think it's valuable in that it goes beyond just looking at Obama's individual positions on issues and takes a turn at the larger Rubik's Cube of the electorate's role in reigning in problematic government.

And he does it all with witty metaphors and evocative imagery! Huzzah!

1 comment:

Elliot said...

Right, this is kind of what I was trying to get at a while back when I thought out loud (in response to Eremita's comparison of Obama to Kennedy, I think) that looking to Obama as a hero would ultimately lead to disillusionment. (Unless, as in the case of Kennedy, he is martyred.) And I think it's starting to. But I think, actually, that it's leading to a good kind of disillusionment, and a kind that Obama himself will hopefully be pleased at: the disillusionment is with the idea that voters can vote for the right person and then let go of the reigns; the idea that voters are followers and not catalysts. That is a state of mind that it will be healthy for us to get disillusioned with.

Also, part of this "progressive dilemma" is just, as I uncharitably see it, a failure on the part of progressives (and I consider myself one) to appreciate that they are only part of a larger ideological coalition/spectrum, and that its not only unrealistic but also a bit self-centered to expect every four years that a candidate will arise whose platforms fit MoveOn's exactly, and then be so piously disappointed when a candidate for national office doesn't totally agree with them.

Its not just that Obama is "caving" to the right to get elected (although he may be), but it may also be that he is simply more centrist than progressives projected upon him, or at least more centrist on some issues. For instance, he has maintained his full throated opposition to the war and its "mindset", while his more conservative, nuanced stance on gun control and the death penalty seem to be long-held opinions that doctrinaire progressives found it convenient to not examine until now.

But back to the main discussion. The progressive dilemma can be restated as an axis: on one end of the axis is the idea that change comes primarily through the single person, the great man who imposes his will on the world. On the other extreme is the view that change is the product of decentralized, almost unalterable historical forces, and that the range of options available to a single person are almost nil. Clearly, the true state of things lies somewhere in the middle, but what side you lean to will inform a lot of your view of politics (as well as history, etc). I lean towards the second, and I so I am more apt to note the constraints that Obama is operating under and ask how to alter those constraints, rather than wish Obama would act more like I want him to, or ask how to find someone who is "better" than Obama or to pine for that mystical someone who is.

And I think, in the end, thats what Marshall does in his article - he comes to the conclusion that it is in the voters' hands to work and organize to change the conditions that candidates for office are working under. And I think that there is one big reason that doesn't happen enough: it is incredibly difficult work. Trust me. But its really the only thing we can do.