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Saturday, February 13, 2010


I have been trying to figure out why I have been so dispirited lately. Things are going badly in the world, to be sure, but things have been going badly for as long as I can remember. The Great Depression, World War II, the Cold War, Korea, the threat of nuclear war, the abortive invasion of Cuba, the endless overthrows of progressive leaders engineered by the CIA, stagflation, the attack on unions, Nixon, Watergate, Reagan, Bush I, Bush II, this Iraq War, that Iraq War, on and on it comes. Through it all, I have fumed, I have fulminated, I have protested, I have marched, I have written books [pretty much a waste of time, that], but I have not been dispirited in the way that I am now.

After some extended brooding, I realize that what I am experiencing is conflicted feelings, and that drains me more than simple rage ever did. For many decades now, I have kept alive the belief that an electoral triumph could make matters so significantly better that I would be able to enjoy the evening news, welcome the headlines, luxuriate in the feeling that I and my kind had finally gotten our day in the sun.

Well, last November, that finally happened. I pinned all my hopes, in the twilight of my life, on an Obama Administration, and it came to pass. But things are still awful. And yet, I cannot happily turn my anger on Obama, for two reasons, one of which is rational and the other purely emotional. The rational reason is that very little of what is wrong now is Obama's fault. We on the left have hated the Republicans for so long that we tend to forget the extent to which they really are to blame for most of what is wrong with our political life. We treat them merely as a given background condition, and focus all of our attention on relatively minor ways in which we wish Obama had acted or chosen differently. The Republicans, not Obama and his Administration, are to blame for the compromised content of a Health Care reform bill that, in the end, may not pass. The Republicans are to blame for the lack of strong climate control and alternative energy policies. The Republicans are to blame for blocking strong nominees for countless positions in the Administration. The lone major bad decision for which Obama is clearly to blame is the decision to expand the war in Afghanistan, and that, I must recall, was something he promised to do during the campaign.

The emotional reason for my inability simply to pivot into a stance of opposition to Obamais that if I turn my anger on Obama, I am left without anything at all on which to pin my hopes, and I am simply unable to live in a condition of permanant hopelessness. If we look in a clear-eyed and unillusioned way at American politics, I think we must conclude that Obama is far and away the best political leader we can hope for, given the nature and attitudes of the American people. Does anyone seriously think that someone farther to the left than Obama by any significant measure could win the Democratic nomination and then a presidential campaign? I don't. Does anyone who has watched the trainwreck of Congressional politics in the past twelve months think that Obama could have won approval for significantly more progressive legislation, no matter how he deployed his "mandate?" I don't. The Republicans are responsible fior the obstructionist use of the filibuster, not Obama. And with half a dozen or more Democratic senators prepared to block almost any sort of rational legislation -- never mind all forty-one of the Republicans -- Obama's options are so severely limited that he may be unable to accomplish anything of note.

This is, after all, a country a sizeable minority of whose residents believe that the world was created six or seven thousand years ago! It is a nation a sizeable minority of whose residents think Obama is a socialist born outside the United States. There is no credible evidence whatsoever that this country is ready for democracy. And yet all of us are stuck here, condemned to live out our lives in a country populated largely by mean-spirited ignorant bigots.

So, as I say, I am feeling somewhat dispirited. I realize that my mood is not improved by the advent of a third snowstorm in a part of the country that is, I was assured, snow free.

After another post or two in which I allow myself to give voice to my dissatisfactions, I am going to try my hand at something more interesting: a reflection on the current world-wide financial crisis and the way in which it may be leading to something with at least a distant kinship to socialism.


NotHobbes said...

Draw comfort from this Professor; we in the UK are almost certainly about to welcome in a conservative government within months. A government with no legitimate mandate to rule here in Scotland(Even their most fervent enthusiastic airheads acknowledge that a resounding success for conservatism in Scotland would see them with as few as 3 seats from the available 72-Yes, that`s right, a 4% share of vote!)
I live in hope though, hope that they(Conservatives) will hasten the dissolution of the Union.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Well, if that happens, you get to keep the lion's share [so to speak] of the great British philosophers. That is something, after all. Perhaps Texas will be inspired by such a turn of events to secede from the Union. We must seek our little satisfactions where we can find them. [But Bobby Burns or no, I do think you get the short end of the stick when it comes to writers. :) ]

Ann said...

I have become wildly optimistic since you have pointed out on Thursday that 70% of the American public think that Sarah Palin is not qualified to be President. Now there's really good news!!! and reason for hope! :-)

Onward to the analysis of the world financial crisis.

NotHobbes said...

"Onward to the analysis of the world financial crisis"

Yes, that`s something else to look forward to.