radically for Obama

David Sessions explains why he is going to vote for Obama this Fall, even though Sessions believes the Whole Thing is put simply an atrocity – that the political system and the security state are sources of evil, and so on. He implicitly describes his own orientation in one telltale phrase: “committed to radical inclusion both domestically and internationally.” A truly “radical” policy of “inclusion” equates with the total dissolution not just of the nation-state but of politics itself. As such, it is also utopian: a radical inclusiveness indistinguishable from radical self-exclusion: uttered irrelevancy except, unless, and only where located or discovered within the prior principle of the sacrificial community – the nation – that the utopian presumes to reject, as though a mental act of negation severs actual bonds: The author is forced to divide his mind between self-gratifyingly totalized verbal gestures and an incremental “humanitarian” return to the real that is little different from anyone else’s relation to conventional politics: sacred imagination, banal adulthood. What would be radical, but remains tantalizingly unavailable, drawing us into its vanishing wake, is to see them at once, and join them to each other.

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  1. …Ok, now I get why negation is such a lightning rod. If I routinely saw people make arguments that beg of rejection and revolt only to suddenly go “and that’s why I’m doing what everyone else who pays more attention to Hollywood gossip than the state of the world is doing!”, I’d start barfing at each such appearance too.

    David describes all those features of the US political system that he finds terrible, and how they’re perpetuated…and then announces he’ll give it allegiance anyway. Sounds like he wants to give up without sounding like he’s giving up.

    • I don’t really know that anyone can avoid trying to have things both ways. What annoys me is a particular mode of self-superiority, as though merely having an idea of something better, or what you believe would be better, etc., actually makes you better, even though all we know for sure is that on this issue you’re mostly the same as everyone else, except in this one way worse.

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TV pundits and op-ed writers of every major newspaper epitomize how the Democratic establishment has already reached a consensus: the 2020 nominee must be a centrist, a Joe Biden, Cory Booker or Kamala Harris–type, preferably. They say that Joe Biden should "run because [his] populist image fits the Democrats’ most successful political strategy of the past generation" (David Leonhardt, New York Times), and though Biden "would be far from an ideal president," he "looks most like the person who could beat Trump" (David Ignatius, Washington Post). Likewise, the same elite pundit class is working overtime to torpedo left-Democratic candidates like Sanders.

For someone who was not acquainted with Piketty's paper, the argument for a centrist Democrat might sound compelling. If the country has tilted to the right, should we elect a candidate closer to the middle than the fringe? If the electorate resembles a left-to-right line, and each voter has a bracketed range of acceptability in which they vote, this would make perfect sense. The only problem is that it doesn't work like that, as Piketty shows.

The reason is that nominating centrist Democrats who don't speak to class issues will result in a great swathe of voters simply not voting. Conversely, right-wing candidates who speak to class issues, but who do so by harnessing a false consciousness — i.e. blaming immigrants and minorities for capitalism's ills, rather than capitalists — will win those same voters who would have voted for a more class-conscious left candidate. Piketty calls this a "bifurcated" voting situation, meaning many voters will connect either with far-right xenophobic nationalists or left-egalitarian internationalists, but perhaps nothing in-between.

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Understanding Trump’s charisma offers important clues to understanding the problems that the Democrats need to address. Most important, the Democratic candidate must convey a sense that he or she will fulfil the promise of 2008: not piecemeal reform but a genuine, full-scale change in America’s way of thinking. It’s also crucial to recognise that, like Britain, America is at a turning point and must go in one direction or another. Finally, the candidate must speak to Americans’ sense of self-respect linked to social justice and inclusion. While Weber’s analysis of charisma arose from the German situation, it has special relevance to the United States of America, the first mass democracy, whose Constitution invented the institution of the presidency as a recognition of the indispensable role that unique individuals play in history.

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[E]ven Fox didn’t tout Bartiromo’s big scoops on Trump’s legislative agenda, because 10 months into the Trump presidency, nobody is so foolish as to believe that him saying, “We’re doing a big infrastructure bill,” means that the Trump administration is, in fact, doing a big infrastructure bill. The president just mouths off at turns ignorantly and dishonestly, and nobody pays much attention to it unless he says something unusually inflammatory.On some level, it’s a little bit funny. On another level, Puerto Rico is still languishing in the dark without power (and in many cases without safe drinking water) with no end in sight. Trump is less popular at this point in his administration than any previous president despite a generally benign economic climate, and shows no sign of changing course. Perhaps it will all work out for the best, and someday we’ll look back and chuckle about the time when we had a president who didn’t know anything about anything that was happening and could never be counted on to make coherent, factual statements on any subject. But traditionally, we haven’t elected presidents like that — for what have always seemed like pretty good reasons — and the risks of compounding disaster are still very much out there.

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