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Legion. An amalgamated journal.

Bad faith

In the Crimson today, Nathaniel Rakich has a fantastic op-ed:

A new Democratic regime can institute progressive policies, but that won’t change conservative attitudes that are still alive and well. Just as everyday volunteers convinced the nation it was time to elect Obama, they must promote acceptance of views that are currently disdained as “liberal” by many Americans. Cries of “Yes we did” make it too easy to forget the groups and causes that continue to struggle.

In short, yes, we did nothing except get our foot in the door.

First, this is eerily like a post that I was going to write on the night after the election but held off for fear of seeming like a party pooper. So congratulations to Nathaniel for once again having the guts to say the things I don’t have the courage to say (his “Reverse Elitism” being another prominent example).

In either case, Nathaniel gets it exactly right, and what this article points out reveals exactly why I have been so ambivalent about Obamaism since it started converting over from plucky idealism to rather mushy and dilute sloganeering copped from the mushy and dilute campaign of Deval Patrick. The items of the past few months which will be picked up by the magnet of history—the crowds, the Hope poster, the ‘yes we can’ chant—are all nice mementos of what is justifiably a historic event. The texture of everyday life, however, responds very slowly to the stimuli of spectacle. A very reactionary strain of conservatism still courses strongly through Americans’ political veins. Pundits all of a sudden seem to be talking about America becoming a ‘center-left’ nation. Would that this were true. We need every day to be thinking, writing, and talking about the material change that constitute a leftward shift. I want nothing more than for this to be true. But it has not happened yet.

I think Obama himself knows this better than most. He ought to be commended for diving in head-first into the day-to-day work of creating a new liberal consensus. Picking somebody other than Summers for Treasury and making a few other daring moves would move him a long way in this direction, but, so far, his effort has been admirable. Hell, I’d have taken a two-week nap if I were him.

The people who are hopped-up about ‘change’ but couldn’t even begin to tell you what they think about health-care mandates or education funding, on the other hand, need to start putting their heads together in the business of politicocultural transformation. Redemption of the past and construction of the future are processes that happen always at the knife-edge of the future. Looking at the facts of the past and saying that the work is done is bad faith.

I know of no better call to this constant commitment than the final passage of Camus’s The Plague, in which Doctor Rieux does not remember the plague which he and his allies have finally conquered, but rather keeps his sleeves rolled:

[Rieux] knew what this happy crowd did not know, but what it could have learned from books: the plague baccilus never dies nor disappears for good, that it may rest dormant for dozens of years in furniture, in furnishings, that it waits patiently in bedrooms, cellars, trunks and bookshelves; and that perhaps the day will come when to the misfortune or enlightenment of humanity, the plague will again bestir its rats and send them forth to die in a happy city.

Garrett Dash Nelson

November 10th, 2008 at 8:08 pm

But perhaps you disagree

No responses so far

The room is, as yet, filled with smoke and apprehension.