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Friday, September 3, 2010


I just think that you are plain wrong. I never imagined Obama was a left liberal, and I didn't campaign for him under that illusion. I thought he was a centrist, a left-centrist, in the framework of American politics, with the ability to mobilize the center and the left to defend against the horrors promised by the right. I was right about that. Had the depression not hit, he would in fact be doing quite well now, by his own lights, but quite well means successfully pursuing centrist-left policies. In point of fact, he has been astonishingly successful in that regard. The health reform bill is not a disaster, as you suggest. It is the best that we could get, given the realities of American politics, and he is the first president in ninety years to get it. You are mad at the wrong person. The real villain in this piece is the enormous number of Americans -- not, I think and hope a majority, but enormous none the less -- who are either conservative or hysterically insane with religious fantasies and political paranoia.

Do you want a genuinely leftist president? Fine, so do I. How do we get one? Answer, we change eighty or a hundred million Americans. Let me remind you -- and I was there, so I know -- that Roosevelt, Kennedy, Johnson, and Carter were all Left Centrists at best. My grandfather gave his life to the Socialist Party, and its high point was electing him and six others to the NYC Board of Aldermen. This has NEVER been a country that was hospitable to genuinely leftist politics.

What we are now facing is a threat from the right unlike any I have seen in forty years. We are in danger of losing such tattered remains as we still have of a social safety net, and of seeing maniacal religious fanatics running our country. I am hoping that Obama will tap into his considerable political skills to stop that from happening, but even if he does, we will nonetheless be stuck with a politics that is markedly to the right of where it is now. These are godawful times, made all the more perilous by the fact that the very large number of genuine progressives in this country are dispirited.

You want some left wing inspiration? Remember that in 1905, Lenin and Trotsky and the rest saw the revolution come, and fail. They went right on working for twelve more years until the unanticipated First World War gave them an opportunity to seize power. We need some of that same patience and commitment now. We need to shore up Obama, and the Democratic Party, and then work as hard as we can to push it and the rest of the country to the left.

Is that what I would like to be doing? Hardly. At seventy-six, I would like to be relaxing, playing with my grandchildren, and watching the country march steadfastly into a socialist future. Fat chance. My best hope is to see the present religious hysteria die away, as it has before many times in the last four hundred years of American history, and to see good decent progressives score some limited victories that will help the scores of millions of Americans who are in dire straits.

If that is not good enough for you, then you are not serious about politics.


Chris said...

I appreciate the reply. I'll be blunt, I'm quite serious about politics - it's my major, however, I do not go to any lengths to ever defend and/or support murderers or those complicit in such. I'm just that radical. Frankly, your anarchist text highlights this point, where one need look to their our moral autonomy, and not be a heteronomos individual. If I hold a moral principle, I should not be wishy washy with it, in regards to others. Would Kant's categorical imperative not concur? I'll quote Ralph Nader on this one, whenever he is told "Look Ralph, I would prefer you, but I had to go for the lesser of two evils," he replies: "so you're complicit in evil." I don't like party politics, I find it corrosive, destructive, and anti-democratic. And I don't support war presidents. All Obama has done is managed to pull the rug over millions of progressives, and youthful Democratics, into thinking they are making stark 'change,' when the core fabrics are society are just the same.

Regardless, I appreciate the reply.
Thank you,

Jim said...

Professor Wolff –
I agree with your assessment. I think what has me the most dispirited is the fact that Obama’s opponents can successfully classify him as a Socialist, and now a Muslim. These assertions are flat out false, yet people tend to eat it up. Obama and his allies should not have to defend against such charges, yet lose valuable ground in doing so. I think it was both Engels and John Reed who observed – on separate instances - what they termed the inability (not difficulty, mind you, but inability) to convey Socialist ideas and theory to the American citizenry. It is as if there is a built in buffer that prevents these ideas from mere consideration by most Americans. What’s left is a populace that throws out “moderate” Republicans for being “too soft” on health care (e.g. Murkowski in Alaska). Now that’s dispiriting.

NotHobbes said...

I would say that Professor Wolff is bang on the money when urging patience and unwavering commitment.
Cast your eyes across the Atlantic come next Spring to see what the alternative would be

GTChristie said...

You have a good eye for the realities. Nobody can have the whole of one agenda. It's all about what's achievable, and part of the problem ordinary people complain about now is the all-or-nothing partisanship of Congress. Gridlock, as much as anything else, alienates the majority (which, on balance, is almost by definition "centrist.") It was amazing to watch Obama preside over an achievement on his watch that had eluded even such a pragmatist as Clinton.

You will find that many (incidentally or not, secular) conservatives, including myself, view the religious right and its usurpation of the GOP to be a bad thing for all concerned. Although we prefer a conservative orientation to government, we do not appreciate having our pragmatic (call it "Rockefeller") conservatism hijacked by the religious right. On the principle of the Golden Mean (which tends to be the statistical result of voting and thus of democracy -- somebody should prove that scientifically!), the achievable is all any party can expect. It should be a representative's job to "find the doable and do it." Of course the world needs idealogues like Chris to define the limits of the paradigm. But political realism indicates the extreme shall never rule. And if it ever does, you can be sure the counter-revolution will begin ... disaster for all concerned.

Bravo, Professor. You irk me one minute, surprise me the next, and overall I've been impressed with your (so-what-if-it's-ancient) wisdom.

Chris said...

GChristie, so far as I'm concerned, our all political charade is inherently violent and oppressive. The executive branch, supreme court, and senate, need to wither away. I know my politics aren't pragmatic, or around the corner, but my conscience prevents me from compromise. I appreciate that I'm a necessity; if only I could be a threat ;)

As far as Wolff, what happened to the man advocating for direct democracy via tv voting rigs on all issues in congress? And to the wayward anarchist whose morally autonomous? Instead, this stinks of some kind of dialectical expectations.

Robert said...

Sorry, Bob, the unfortunate reality is that virtually all the enthusiasm that Obama had been able to call forth before his election and immediately afterwards has gone down the drain. It's just not there anymore. He has made so many compromises that no one has any idea of what he stands for. His economic advisors like Geithner played a big role in the financial meltdown. He completely reneged on his original position to have a public option as part of the health plan. The enormous political resources expended to get a mediocre health care bill passed would have been put to far better use to jump-start a green energy program that would have done much to improve the employment situation and wean us from our dependence on oil. We have the BP Gulf disaster and not Obama to thank for whatever brakes are being put on off-shore oil drilling. He claims that the Iraq war is over but thousands of troops remain there and are likely to remain there in the forseeable future. Most devastating of all, of course, as even you will admit, is his escalation of the Afghanistan war, expanded to include drone attacks on Pakistan as well. The current political situation is indeed alarming as you say. The famous line from Yeats' The Second Coming, "The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity," is as applicable now as it ever was. But Obama takes much of the blame for why the best lack all conviction now, and are so discouraged and disheartened. It's not enough to say that politics is the art of the possible. It's also the art of inspiration. Take that away and there isn't all that much left.

Robert Shore

High Arka said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
High Arka said...

(Repost for grammatical correction)

Mr. Wolff supports the ongoing mass slaughter of countless people because he doesn't want to lose "the tattered remains" of his domestic "safety net." I could not have scripted in fiction a more selfish or vile way of dismissing the lives ground through the teeth of the American war machine. That kind of vulgar disregard for life is sickening.

Even in the Professor's upper-middle-class la-la land, where the lives of the poor and the brown and the Islamic have only marginal negotiation value (so long as they don't conflict with his Social Security or Medicare), how is Obama not an utter failure? I understand from polls that a majority of Americans wanted the public option. So, how is failing to even push for that option a success? How can you blame the majority, when the majority wanted something more "leftist" than what Obama was willing to deliver?

The John McCain bogeyman is such a weak justification. Domestically, what could McCain be doing that is worse than extrajudicial killings on presidential order, forcing people to patronize health care conglomerates under threat of financial destruction, destroying jobs, putting Social Security "on the table," or essentially, anything he's done since putting his suit in the chair? Imposing Sharia law, Mr. Wolff? Please. Your "do [terrible thing] or else [even worse thing] will happen" argument is as hollow, and as murderously insane, as Glenn Beck's use of the same technique.

What a pathetic, selfish, terrible defense of the ongoing charade of theft and slaughter.

finn said...

On the principle of the Golden Mean (which tends to be the statistical result of voting and thus of democracy

The result of the democratic process is 1.6180339887... ? What are the units? WTF could that even mean?

GTChristie said...

In philosophy, especially that of Aristotle, the golden mean is the desirable middle between two extremes, one of excess and the other of deficiency. For example courage, a virtue, if taken to excess would manifest as recklessness and if deficient as cowardice.

The mathematical value you mention is known as the golden ratio.