11 February 2009

Progressives & Obama

My paper copy of The Nation arrived today. I will call your attention to the terrifically smart column by Gary Younge. It's called "Beyond Hope." Since it is protected by a subscription wall you might not be able to access it. Here are the good bits:
"But it's time to let that new reality sink in. The transition is over. We have moved from aspiration to destination. Obama has arrived. Tempting though it may be to savor the lingering aftertaste of a sweet, sweet victory, progressives need to take the posters down and the buttons off. These are no longer the emblems of resistance but of power.

A movement that does not champion the cause of the powerless has no right to call itself progressive. And a movement that attaches itself unequivocally to power does not have the credibility or wherewithal to call itself progressive. That distinction is of course much easier in times when those in power attack us and our values with impunity. But it is no less necessary when they don't.

[. . .]

Our support for Obama has always been (or should always have been) contingent, as opposed to unconditional. That does not necessarily mean an antagonistic relationship but at the very least an independent one. So to remove his likeness from our walls, hats, chests and homes signals not a souring of the relationship between progressives and Obama but a maturing of it. For many this will be difficult.

[. . .]

The Obama signs, in all their various forms, came to represent a badge of belonging--particularly outside Democratic strongholds. In the small town of Roanoke in conservative southwest Virginia, where I spent much of the campaign, an Obama poster on a popcorn machine in an ice cream and soda store was the sign for some patrons that they could talk freely about their support for him without being harangued. It signaled that, regardless of Fox News talking points your family members, fellow parishioners or colleagues might have been spouting, there was a world out there in which you were not entirely crazy and your values had some value.

To some, bearing the sign marks a form of premature nostalgia for the days when all they dared do was hope. There is a place for that. But as Shepard Fairey's iconic poster of Obama goes up in the National Portrait Gallery, that place is rightfully in a museum. Along with the buttons calling to Free Angela Davis or Nelson Mandela, posters for the Poor People's March or placards to defend the Rosenbergs, they are important pieces of the nation's liberal history because they illustrate an important moment. But that moment has passed.

The T-shirts and buttons served as a shorthand for a makeshift progressive community that gathered around a candidate. That community--or at least that desire for community--still exists. But the moment it gathers around a president, it ceases to be progressive."

Just so.

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Blogger Mauro Thon Giudici said...

"A movement that does not champion the cause of the powerless has no right to call itself progressive"

This is what I would call ingenuous. A bunch of old ladies at tea time pouring their sugar on poor human cases could be called progressive following the assertion.

If you base your identity upon something you will always end up with the need to conserve that something.

If you base a political identity upon "powerless" you only reiterate their statuses on a new basis: a support for your identity.

11 February, 2009 13:11  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...


No so fast!

First, no one claims that speaking out in defense of the powerless is a sufficient condition to call someone or some group or some policy progressive. Think necessary, not sufficient. (In fact the very next sentence after the one you quote from Younge's piece adds another necessary, but insufficient condition.)

Second, on my view "progressive" is not an identity. It is a way of acting in the world.

Third, there is no implication that progressives want the constant production of powerless groups, only that they anticipate that in our current political economy (and probably in any imaginable one) such groups will, in fact, repeatedly appear in new guises. To proceed otherwise is, I think, quite naive.

11 February, 2009 20:18  
Blogger Mauro Thon Giudici said...

only some pointless annotations.

About Identity. If "Being progressive" is a property of something than it concurs in the formation of the identity of that something.

Identity is the real problem here for "being progressive". I understand the need for a broader abstract category.
But a category is something similar to a fishing net.

A nice unwanted fish could be the Catholic Church. They care for the "powerless". BTW they are also quite efficient in finding new categories of powerless like the "embryos". Would you call them "Progressive" ?

12 February, 2009 03:18  
Blogger someonewholovesyou said...

". . . progressive community that gathered around a candidate . . . But the moment it gathers around a president, it ceases to be progressive."

Younge's article is essentially arguing that it's ok to attach oneself unequivocally to a politician seeking power, but not to a politician once he has actually attained power.

What are they supposed to do now that Obama is both President and the anti-Republican candidate for 2012? Silly progressives, no wonder they don't know when to put their buttons away and start "resisting" -- any withdrawal of support for the Democrats is seen as aiding the cause of the Republicans in the next election cycle.

12 February, 2009 11:57  
Blogger comment said...

Wow. Terrifically smart indeed – what a breath of fresh air! Thank you so much for sharing this.

NOTE, the full article is available here:

12 February, 2009 12:23  

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