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Friday, January 14, 2011


I should like to make a few remarks about the political landscape in the aftermath of the Tucson shootings and Obama's speech. Those of you who have completely given up on the American political process and consider me a sell-out for even thinking about such things are invited to spend a few happy hours with THE HOLY FAMILY or ANTI-DUHRING.

Objectively speaking, the shootings have no deep political meaning or significance whatsoever, Sarah Palin's bullseye political map notwithstanding. A cursory reading of Loughner's on-line musings about grammar and literacy and syllogistic logic reveal him pretty clearly to be your run of the mill paranoid schizophrenic. He could as easily have chosen to shoot John Boehner for using a tanning machine not explicitly mandated by the Constitution. But events conspired, in the way they sometimes do, to transform this into a moment of truth for both Palin and Obama. Palin failed the test. Obama met it.

Palin first. Many commentators have remarked on her aggressive embrace of the role of victim, in ways that are both infuriating and deeply resonant with her fans. This was a moment when she might have risen above that self-marginalization, and she flubbed it big time. I am as convinced as I can be about anything in politics that she had not the foggiest idea what "blood libel" means. She and her writers picked the phrase up from the loonier reaches of the right blogosphere, and latched onto it because it had a nice ring to it. The result was a speech so completely out of synch with the spirit of the moment, so utterly tone deaf, as to reveal her once and for all as not ready for prime time. So far as presidential politics are concerned, she is toast. She still has the ability to create chaos in the Republican ranks, but she may not even make it to the Iowa caucuses.

Obama, on the other hand, rose to the moment splendidly. His speech was neither profound nor ideologically significant. Its message was, if the truth be told, banal. But it was absolutely pitch perfect. If anyone thinks that is easy to achieve, try it some time. He was also lucky, and in politics that is often essential. There was no logical reason why Representative Giffords should have opened her eyes for the first time just before he was scheduled to speak. Indeed, judging from what the doctors said, it is a miracle she is doing as well as is she is. But there it was -- a punch line from heaven.

The timing of the event is also extremely significant. The Republicans, after recovering from the swearing-in fiasco, which was, after all, very much inside baseball as far as the country as a whole was concerned, were all cranked up to pass a symbolic House repeal of Obamacare as a thumb in his eye going into the State of the Union Address. Instead, they were virtually forced to suspend business for a week and join hands to sing Kumbaya.

I think this terrible event, combined with the extraordinary flood of Lame Duck Session legislation, has more or less permanently stalled the Republicans' momentum. As I said, Obama is lucky, but successful politicians seize on such fortunate moments and turn them to their advantage. Obama has done so. Palin did not.


Chris said...

Haha, why the holy family? My understanding is that particular text is so contemporary to its time, that it's entirely irrelevant and anachronistic today.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

My point exactly!! :)

By the way, it is also immensely funny, in a very arcane way. Marx's discussion of The Absolute Fruit is a classic.

Chris said...

After reading your blog, and graduating disillusioned with a degree in Poli-Sci, I slowly find myself shifting to Marxism as the consummate philosophy. However, I'm always hesitant to crack open the more esoteric and perhaps arcane text like Poverty of Philosophy, On the Jewish Question, and German Ideology part 2-3. I suppose I must now add the Holy family to my list! If for comedic value alone ;)

Would I be in correct in saying that those books though merely serve as interesting historical reads, and not as foundations of "Marxism."

Chris said...

One more quick question, hope you don't mind. I'm confused by this Theses on Feurebach. Is it really just 11 short, few sentence notes. Or is it part of some actual book or pamphlet sized text.

Jim H. said...

May I respectfully beg to differ? You say the Tucson massacre has "no deep political meaning or significance whatsoever." I've spent the last six posts at my blog analyzing the event and arguing just the opposite (with soundtrack).

It has exposed what I call the U.S.'s operant political philosophy. If you'll forgive my importuning, here's the money quote:

"We are willing to countenance fractious political discourse, even if it leads to misguided ideological passion and wacked, paranoid conspiracy theories. And violence. That's the price we pay for free speech. We have other priorities than the care and healing of our mentally ill, even if it results in the sort of unself-governed and untreated psychoses that apparently led a gunman, for whatever reason, to open fire on a group of peaceably-assembled people in Tucson, Arizona last Saturday. And we believe nearly anyone at any time should have access to the sorts of weapons that Jared Loughner had, weapons capable of massacring multiple persons per second.

That is to say, we believe every person—whether wild, angry, or insane (though not Muslim or Communist, apparently)—in the United States should be able to be, or be perceived as, a violent and potentially deadly threat to every other person in the United States at any given time.

American citizens have the freedom to be angry and truculent and violent and threatening in their political speech, to be bat-shit insane, and to purchase and carry weapons capable of killing multiple people in less than a second. By contrast, America citizens do not have the right to be free from the fear of crazy people carrying guns into and shooting up peaceable assemblies."

A restatement of the obvious? Or a clarification? Agree or disagree, this is the way things stand, not an ideological point. We will continue to have violent outbursts like this; it's part of the political landscape.

My point was that there is no political will to change any of this. We are happy with things being this way. These are risks we are willing to take in exchange for something we call freedom.

Jim H.

Wisdom of the West

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Chris, What you must read are the Communist Manifesto and Volume One of Capital. The eleven theses are really just thast -- eleven brief statements. Marx never published them, needless to say, but the eleventh has become famous.

The early wqorks are a trifle mysterious if you have not steepede yourself in ther writings of the other young men who were known collectively as Left Hegelians.

Jim H., I really agree with what you have said. I was reflecting on the political fallout. I try not to allow my anger at what happens in America to overwhelm me. I get too depressed, and of course I cannot do much of anything about it. I don;t want to spend my declining years seething.

Chris said...

Those are the ones I've read, just curious about the rest - as I do intend to read many of his other books, some time. Specifically Eighteenth Brumaire, and Gothica programme (hope I got the spelling close on those). Also, loved the EP Manuscripts.

Jim H. said...

Thanks, RPW. I'm so glad I've come upon your blog. I don't mean to seethe or incite seething at all. I'm just trying to make sense of this thing.

You are spot on about the political ramifications: the President seemed presidential, and the Silly from Wasilla seemed, well, petty. (if pressed, I'd guess narcissistic personality disorder verging into borderline p.d.) What baffles me is how she is able to suck so much oxygen out of the room. She has a magnificent PR apparatus that echoes throughout the media environment like no on else's ever, as far as I can tell,

I want to say just ignore her (like Obama did, refusing to rise to her baiting), and maybe she'll go away. But no one listens to me.

Jim H.

Daniel said...

I am so glad I found your blog, professor. Your series on Marx is golden and the advice for writing the PhD in philosophy spot on.
Thank you