Friday, May 9, 2008

Je Ne Sais Quoi

I will come back to the Peak Oil issue I raised a couple of posts ago, but in the meantime this post from the very wonky and always incisive Matt Stoller over at the (decreasingly so, but nevertheless staunchly) pro-Clinton Open Left just nailed down into words what for me has been up to now that je ne sais quoi that has drawn me inextricably to the Obama campaign.

It's the feeling of change, real change. Big change. Of difference. Of finally being on the winning team. For a dumb 'ol boy from Texas who grew up watching the horrific, inexorable march of the cornpone Nazis grow from a few angry, sanctimonious, Christo-fascist bigots in backwoods rural Texas spread like a cancer to infect first the governing apparatus of the state and eventually the whole country. As I have said many times, I left Texas because it is the kind of place that actually elected George W. Bush - on purpose. Twice.

So, for truly the first time in my entire life, I am seeing the vast, nationwide cultural wave of xenophobia and willful, mean-spirited, Dixie-fied ignorance that - after college in West Texas - chased me first to the true-blue heart of Texas (Austin, yawl) then on to New York City, before the cackling gremlins in the Reich-wing's high command with their army of flying monkeys usurped the United States government, the people's government, in a bloodless coup. Since then, they have blown up the world, grinning all the way to their secret swiss bank accounts.

And all along, the most galling, frustrating thing for creative-class types like me and, well, everyone I know, was that we knew - KNEW - we were smarter, harder-working, more clever and overall just plain better at organizing shit in a dynamic and interactive way than the lock-step goobers we faced every election cycle. Which is why we all retreated onto the inter-webs. The hive-mind of the blogosphere was where we could and would organize, find our voice and our power again.

Barack Obama understands that. It is unfortunate for Hillary Clinton that she and her husband, as I wrote a few posts back, are relics from another age. Prior to Obama's emergence, Hillary was salable mostly because she was an only slightly prickly reminder of better days, those indian summer salad days of Clintonian dot-com-&-SUV's-on-cheap-gas prosperity, before the onset of this dystopian winter of BushCo.

We can appreciate what Bill & Hillary did for us back then, but Obama makes us now see them both, and her specifically, for what they truly are: the compromised remnants of the-best-we-could-have-hoped-for as the hurricane of right-wing Dixie-fied hatred (30 years in the making) finally make landfall on the shores of decent society.

Obama is an entirely new animal. I will quote Matt Stoller at length:
Obama has successfully remade the Democratic Party already, and shown that old partisan Washington politics is over if you are a Democrat. Can he do that with Republicans? By stripping power, money and responsibility from outside groups and opponents, Obama is increasing his control of the party apparatus. He is also, however, putting everything on his own shoulders. When the Swift Boaters come back, and they will, it's all on Obama and his movement to hit back. He's betting that he can strip power from their base just as he stripped power from the old Washington way of doing politics within the Democratic Party.

I do not doubt that he can do this during the general election. McCain is such a weak candidate, and the Republicans are in such disarray, that a solid White House victory, 5-7 Senate seats, and 40-50 seats in the House are clearly possible. House Republicans are especially mean right now; insiders tell me they are going to cause problems with the war funding tactics just because they are so depressed from losing in Louisiana and Illinois. They have no money for the House and the Senate, and a depressed base. I'm curious about Obama's governing philosophy, as that is where the Republicans are going to make their stand in 2009. Without traditional outside groups (and he doesn't want them involved, witness his lobbyist ban in his new administration), Obama is going to be relying on the emergent networks that come from his campaign to buttress his priorities, but since we don't actually know what they are, it's hard to figure out what his governing strategy will be.

As Mike Lux wrote earlier, it's time to get ready for Obama as the nominee. I would amplify this and point out that it's time to get ready for a party that is being taken apart and rebuilt as the Obama movement. It's incredibly refreshing, in a sense, for politics to be completely reimagined on top of the internet and with a strong focus on leadership development, volunteers, and outside of DC leadership disdainful of partisanship and the give and take of politics-as-usual. It's also displacing the anti-Bush arguments of the last eight years and the political dynamic it fostered on the left.
He then quotes dday from over Digbysblog at Hullabaloo:
There's certainly a danger here of relying on projected numbers instead of traditional power bases, though I don't think he'll be abandoning groups like unions and black churches, nor will any progressive movement structures abandon him. But I really think that the Obama campaign is reacting to this demonization campaign from the right by saying "OK, I'll find voters in so many nooks and crannies and make you work in so many states that you won't have a chance to make this narrative work." His response is not necessarily building a progressive electorate; that would be accomplished by plugging into the nascent progressive structures that already exist. Obama appears to want to build an electorate aligned with Obama's principles and values, and fostering greater participation in politics as a means to move the country forward and break the current polarization. Some Democrats would play on the same playing field and try to win it; Obama's building an entirely new field, one where these narratives and negative ads and the need to tailor the entire general election to 10 independent voters in the middle of Ohio won't matter anymore.

I can't say if it will totally work, but that looks to be the strategy. We've been tantalized with these kinds of efforts before; it's actually a very traditional belief that increased turnout is good for Democrats.
I think all of this is exactly right. You should go read the whole thing, but for now I will end with this quote (also from Stoller's post) before returning to this issue tomorrow in discussion of Peak Oil:
I've been in the wilderness all my political life, as have most of us. The Clintonistas haven't, and they know what it's like to be part of the inside crew. We have a leader, and he's not a partisan and he can now end fractious intraparty fights with a word and/or a nod. His opinion really matters in a way that even Nancy Pelosi's just did not. He has control of the party apparatus, the grassroots, the money, and the messaging environment. He is also, and this is fundamental, someone that millions of people believe in as a moral force.
That is why Clinton is fighting so damned hard.  She and her husband's entire political legacy is at stake.  Obama is about to re-make the entire Democratic Party in his image, as Bill did fifteen years ago.  He very well could re-make the entire political system before he's through, like Saint Ronnie did thirty years ago.  Whether that is good or bad I leave to time and history to decide.  Either way, he is a very different creature in very fundamental ways because he has harnassed new technologies and modes of thinking into a movement.  None of this would be possible were it not for Howard Dean's campaign four years ago and more recently his 50 State Strategy.  As The Great Orange Satan says: Barack Obama is Howard Dean 2.0

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