Coming Soon:

The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

To contact me about organizing, email me at rpwolff750@gmail.com




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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

HAS THE LEFT BEEN BETRAYED? A FURTHER RESPONSE TO ANN

In response to my post about Obama's style of politics, Ann writes, "This second response feels betrayed by the pragmatism, even as I understand how it may be necessary." What can this possibly mean? Disappointed? To be sure. Hungry for more progressive change? Of course. But betrayed? By whom? The use of that word can mean only one thing: that Obama had it within his power to enact a much more progressive piece of legislation, as he had many times indicated he wished to do, but chose not to do so for unacknowledged and reprehensible reasons -- such as that he is a secret conservative, who does not believe in progressive change, or that he has been bought off by malign special interests.

But anyone who paid even the slightest attention to the agonizing process knows that Obama does not have it within his power to pass a significantly more progressive piece of legislation. Indeed, on the basis of the last half century of evidence, it would have been a pretty good bet that neither he nor Nancy Pelosi nor Harry Reid had the power to pass any health care reform legislation at all!

I have said this before on this blog, and I will keep saying it, because it is the truth: It is the American people, by electing the Senators and Representatives who now sit in Congress, who have frustrated the desire of liberals for progressive change. It is not correct to say that the American people have betrayed us, because they have never in any way promised us progressive reform. This simply is not a progressive country. It is a reactionary country with a large liberal minority. I hate that. I have fought it all my life. I will fight it until I die. But I do not imagine that my progressive hopes and dreams have been betrayed by Barack Obama or anyone else.

If the compromises made to assemble majorities in the House and Senate were necessary, then they are not a betrayal! Let it be noted that even in the House, where the Democrats have a large majority and a strongly pro-choice Speaker, a viciously anti-abortion amendment was rammed through with an absolute majority of the votes.

The only genuine betrayal in recent American politics was the Supreme Court's judicial coup d'etat in 2000. That truly was a betrayal, of the Constitution, of the rule of law, of the five Justices' oath of office, and of the American people.

2 comments:

Ann said...

Fair enough. Excellent points.

One wonders, however, if the style of campaigns is different from the necessities of "governing." The outreach and personal motivation of the campaign are no longer in sight....please correct me. Is the Obama campaign "machine" still in operation on the web? Is it possible to expect him to maintain such a mobilization between elections? Or is that our responsibility? Who will organize us, if not our President? This is a serious question.....options include the Democratic Party, moveon.org, Center for Responsive Politics....How are we to proceed? By formulating ideological critiques? Coffee klatches (instead of "tea parties"), which was the style in Republican organizing in suburban California to elect Ronald Reagan and to pass Prop 13.....?!!!

Thanks again ever so much for engaging in further discussion.

Eggs Maledict said...

As someone who found your blog after reading In Defense of Anarchism and absolutely adoring it (I think my university library will be sending debt collectors to take it back at some point soon), I've tremendously enjoyed reading regular bits of your writing here but have not previously commented. This time, though, I feel like I need to, because I massively disagree.

A disclaimer - I live in Australia, where we have a rather nicely developed public healthcare system, so my views are informed by that.

A second disclaimer (conditions, hurrah!) - This ranty comment feels a tad disrespectful, but it's not intended to be and hopefully it won't read that way. I'd love to get your thoughts, criticisms and ideas on my thinking, so I've tried to be as honest in the rambling rant as I can.

I understand that the impressive power of conservatives and reactionaries in Congress and the Senate made Obama's (and Pelosi et. al.'s) task in building health reform a serious challenge. I get that the Democrats have had to compromise on some points to attract centrists. But even considering that, the language that Obama and Rahm Emanuel in particular have used smacks of a lack of willingness to take a firm stand on almost anything.

Surely the people who've supported the Democratic Party through the hard years, the progressives Ann feels have been betrayed, have a right to feel that they have been. They were promised a lot, and even considering how cynical one must be regarding campaign promises, they must deserve something. But the White House has not only failed to throw them even a tiny bone, they've actively denigrated the liberals who feel betrayed and abandoned. Whenever the centre of the right demand something, they get it, but when the left ask for something it's refused outright.

In Australia, we elected the Labor Party, led by Kevin Rudd, in 2007. This was after 11 years of the conservative Liberal-National Coalition being in government, which for me represented my formative political years. Rudd's government have done some good things, like their apology to our indigenous peoples for the abuses perpetrated by Europeans from settlement onwards and removing a shoddy industrial relations 'reform' which got them elected. They've also acted pretty poorly on climate change and their current attempt at censoring the internet.

As a relatively leftist person, I'm not happy with them, but I don't feel betrayed, because Rudd Labor ran a campaign as a centrist party and that's exactly what they've been. That's not how Obama ran. He presented himself as a progressive - 'Change we can believe in'. He made promises to the gay and lesbian community, who contributed a lot of money, but he's essentially abandoned them. Women, who from what I can see seem to be a core aspect of the Democratic Party's cupport, have been thrown to the wolves with the Stupak Amendment and other unreasonable aspects of the healthcare bill.

I was unenthusiastic about Rudd's election - he was better than the alternative and had a fantastic (leftist) deputy leader, Julia Gillard, who may become our first female Prime Minister. On balance, they've impressed me. They've done more than I expected.

In contrast, I was enthused about Obama. After 8 years of G. W. B. as the leader of the most heavily armed nation on the planet, I was excited by the prospect of America electing a young, dynamic person of colour to their highest office. But since his election, I've felt...well, betrayed. I didn't even vote for the man, but he's the President of the USA. His decisions impact me, sometimes directly. I was one of the global 91% of people who wanted him to be elected.

I don't feel betrayed by the people of America. I never really thought of them as being in a position to betray me. But Obama's rhetoric wasn't just national, it was global. He made promises to the world and I feel like those promises have been broken.