The Audacity of Despair

In a presidential election year, the spectacle of “choice” has become an increasingly hyper-amplified and necessary illusion to maintain the so-called fabric of the (ahem) democratic republic. In progressive, liberal and even radical left-wing circles, the predictable exercise is to “hold one’s nose” to vote or campaign for “the lesser of two evils” and hope for the best.

“Hope” in an election year is nothing new. It’s just that after eight years of Bush administration wreckage served up by a compliant and servile Democratic congress, that the currency of people’s hope has become so much more of an indispensable commodity to be exploited.

Along comes Barack Obama.

As everyone with a pulse is all too much aware, the Obama campaign has made nice-sounding words like “hope” and “change” it’s centerpiece for the fresh, young senator who just happens to be African American. The Clinton campaign had tried it’s damnedest to wrest away those valuable propaganda memes with all of the relentlessness and ferocious intensity of a pitbull. But in the end, it was decided that the man was better suited to maintain the status quo.

Fear not though, Clintonistas. After such a long, grueling, American Idolesque fight which conveniently shoved actual issues like war and home foreclosures to the nation’s back pages for months on end, party “unity” was quickly achieved, somehow magically. Look! Over there! It’s Obama’s foreign policy team –a crew of Clinton family insiders that could warm the cockles of any jaded Hillary fan, including ex-Secretaries of State Warren Christopher and Madeline “we think the price of 500,000 dead Iraqi children is worth it” Albright. You see, there’s still hope for you too! After all, it’s all about the personality, not the policy, right?

“Hope” now springs eternal. With public opinion polls showing enthusiasm for the Democratically-controlled Congress hovering near the gutter of single digits, you better believe in the crushing necessity of hope. Perhaps anticipating this sad state of affairs, Obama even named his best-selling book, “The Audacity of Hope.” Suddenly, hope is not the last resort of apathy and anti-intellectual foolishness, but a revolutionary act. The audacity! The audacity and unctuousness of this black man to believe in and promote the empire at the precise hour of its decay, while it runs rampant at home and abroad. If he can still believe, shouldn’t you?

One should not just pull a lever and “hope” for the best. I understand. It’s been like this for awhile. But that a candidate’s electability has been degraded and reduced to the extent to which they can generate and foster mere “hope” for the future is a testament to just how pathetic and demoralized our collective disenfranchisement is. In a healthy, functioning democratic system, a candidate is ushered into public office by the informed consent and demand of the popular will to effect specific change. Once in office, it is understood that this public servant will endure high-pressured expectations, and should they not perform as promised, they will be held to account and thrown out on their ear for failing the republic.

But I know, that’s strictly fairytale fare. I forgot. This is the era of “executive privilege.” We can only “hope” that our elected leaders will do what we want, even if a clear and broad majority of us want it –like a national health care program or the troops home now (and no, not a “phased redeployment”).

Best illustrating the political debasement of this zeitgeist is MoveOn.org’s brand new, prize-winning Obama commercial to be aired on MTV and Comedy Central. It’s theme and title: “It Could Happen To You.” This short, insipid advertisement is based on the suspense of fleeting, non-sequitur, PSA-style testimonials from hip-looking thirty-somethings fessing up to what the viewer might expect to be an STD or erectile dysfunction. But in the end (big laughs, now)…the punchline is that it’s not drug addiction they’re talking about, but presto –it’s hope! Hope –that amorphous and pliant, feel-good, four letter word that needs no explication. Hope –it’s a noun! It’s a verb! Like the best post-modern marketing campaign, it’s so durable –it’s anything you want it to be! It’s an all-purpose sponge-mop that can absorb all of those anxieties, fears and insecurities you’ve been accumulating all these years and then, squeeze it and –voila, that’s no gray water,  it’s hope! Screw the facts! Have a big, mushy helping of hope on your plate instead. It goes down much easier than critical thinking. Hope trumps Thought.

For example, it’s much easier to hope that if Obama is president, he will “end the war in Iraq” rather than more carefully examine his statements which reveal a more evasive, open-ended and outright hawkish policy involving keeping tens of thousands of troops in Iraq as an occupying, “residual force,” escalating the war in Afghanistan and making provocative threats towards Iran.

So this is what “change” will look like, eh? In this way, “hope” has taken on a profound, new level of meaning and co-optation, representing a new low –nay, a quantum low in social discourse away from it’s antecedent “blind faith.”

Clearly embodying and best exemplifying the symptoms of this political illness –this hope– appropriately enough, is none other than MoveOn.org scion Eli Pariser who in a recent McClatchy article revealed his complete ignorance about Barack Obama, much less U.S. Foreign policy. His quotes are a revelation for understanding the malaise of hope. Upon reading them, suddenly it makes sense that MoveOn is at the frontlines of the liberal soup line, ladleling out the Kool Aid of Hope to millions (and making a profit to boot). Asked about Obama’s recent trip to the Middle East, Pariser gushed: “So far the trip has been out of the park. It’s an enormous moment.”

He then confessed he wasn’t fully aware of Obama’s call for a residual force in Iraq and evaded commenting on Afghanistan because at this late hour he still needs to get a focus group of his membership together for their feelings about it. That MoveOn.org commands such an enormous membership does not fill me with the hope that the power of intellectual progress will eventually prevail. It sickens me with dread.

But since it is the order of the day, I’ll jump on the bandwagon to tack on just a few, rudimentary things I think should be included in any Obama voter’s toolkit of “hope”:

–Hope that Barack Obama was only telling the Israelis what they wanted to hear when tripping over himself to profess his “unshakable commitment to Israel’s security,” which included fibbing about belonging to the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee (which he doesn’t) to pass “a bill to call for divestment from Iran as a way of ratcheting up the pressure to ensure that they don’t obtain a nuclear weapon” (which he didn’t).

–Hope that Barack Obama was also only telling the Israelis what they wanted to hear while repeatedly making the outstandingly controversial claim that Jerusalem is their nation’s rightful capital  –a statement that singlehandedly outraged the Arab world and squashed any hope they might have had for real change in US foreign policy in the Middle East and the beleaguered occupied Palestinian territories.

–Hope that Barack Obama is only trying to talk tough to get elected while (like President Bush) he relentlessly and dangerously “ratchets up the pressure” with Iran by “taking no (military) option off the table,” at the same moment his new Israeli friends openly talk about potentially imminently attacking that country.

–Hope that Barack Obama isn’t really serious about “redeploying” thousands of troops to Afghanistan to win what he describes as being a better war to fight.

–Hope that Barack Obama, once elected, will be willing to betray and confront his big backers in the ethanol industry with the unpleasant problem of mass starvation and environmental havoc they have unleashed across the planet at a breakneck pace.

–Hope that Barack Obama will also be willing to betray and confront his big backers in the coal industry whose designs for the immediate future portend an even grimmer forecast for the consequences of global warming.

–Hope that Barack Obama’s top campaign staff which (like John McCain) has counted Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac chief executives and lobbyists amongst them, doesn’t enjoy intimate influence such that an Obama presidency merely bails them out and leaves you homeless.

Don’t get me wrong. I do find the prospect of certifiably stupid and insane John McCain jockeying the Oval Office to be a much, much more terrifying scenario.

But it is with the utmost humiliating resignation that I admit that come November, for lack of any viable alternative, save for expatriating to another country and daydreaming about a sudden and miraculous US reclamation of our revolutionary heritage, that I too will vote for Obama. I’m not drinking the Kool Aid. But for my own dignity and for the millions or people whose hearts will be broken when the “change they can believe in” never appears beyond the color of Obama’s flesh, let it be said that “hope” as a political commodity reached it’s apotheosis of co-optation… and what really transpired was the most audacious exploitation of despair.

EAMON MARTIN is editor and co-anchor of The Global Report





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