Hope, Change and Pessimism…

February 11, 2009



Egyptian writer Alaa Al-Aswany wrote this op-ed in the New York Times on Saturday:


His words, especially the lines,

” We had already begun to tune out. We were beginning to recognize how far the distance is between the great American values that Mr. Obama embodies, and what can actually be accomplished in a country where support for Israel seems to transcend human rights and international law.”

echo my own growing hesitance and disappointment with President Obama. Naturally skeptical by nature or perhaps by experience, I tried so hard to suspend my feelings of doubt in order to give this man, who embodied so many hopes and dreams of the American people, a fair chance. I didn’t forget that the Republicans, used to having things their own way, were not likely to disappear without a fight. Nor did I expect the change that he promised to appear overnight. But I did expect bolder gestures, a tougher stance on critics and a more forceful message of change.

Watching Barack Obama in last night’s Presidential News Conference, I felt like I was watching a man who, upon entering the machine, is about to become very bitter. It was hard for President Obama to conceal his frustration and exasperation with Republicans in the Senate who oppose relief for taxpayers when they are responsible for creating the economic mess that we are all in. But, while he expressed his frustration, he also came across as tired, long-winded, rambling and evasive. Trying to hard to be diplomatic, he ends up alienating everyone. As a friend told me, “Barack Obama is a nice guy in a world of not so nice guys.”

Perhaps this comes as a shock to Barack’s highly educated, liberal sensibilities, but no one likes the nice guy. Politics is a cutthroat game and the winners are those who can outmaneuver and intimidate others into going along with their agenda. As much as I wish we were not like this as a collective human race, this seems to be the way it is. If Barack Obama keeps hoping that the Republicans will eventually be won over by the superior moral and intellectual reasoning of his ideas, then he is in for a long, rude awakening. He needs to get tough, embrace real creative thinking and throw his moderate, temperate caution to the wind. 


A similar article appears here:


” I mean, Condoleeza Rice was black and poor, and she still invaded Iraq.”

Majority Rules

December 17, 2008

This paper will continue explorations of the ways in which the American voting public is assumed and created by the narratives of power extended by those seeking office. This section begins with a memory. A few years ago, everyone was talking about a young senator from Illinois who delivered a scathing speech against the Iraq war. He had a strange name, where was he from? His father was African, his mother a housewife from Texas. He was a shining star, the future hope of the Democratic Party. He is an African- American from Hawaii. Barack is being created by the kind of power that he speaks against. He is a conservative’s liberal, a man’s man, a white’s black man, etc. Someone who can be trusted to win the hearts of the people while covering up how is he represented and at the same time he is an actor who represents his own ideology of change. 

Lately, there has been an article on the NYTimes that echoes something Patrick said but that I thought was not real. I am always on the lookout for subtle violence, inflections of speech, curt silences, rigid postures, that the idea of someone taking out a gun and shooting someone  outright seems unreal, like a cartoon. Berlant says this very well when she says; “if whites must be racialized in the new national order, racial identity must be turned into a national family value.” The ‘hushed worry’ is being whispered like parents protecting their child, Barack as America’s new golden child. By being who he is, by naively stepping into the ring, by bravely, brashly declaring himself the poster-child of change, he has also gained a new cadre of protectors. They will lead him to victory while exchanging what value he means to himself with the values that will keep America balanced in its inequality. He is used to this, after all, he did go to Harvard. 

Chelsea Clinton is now being primed for her political career. It still seems wrong somehow, that in our quest for change, our search for healing from the vacancies of the Bush administration, that we are turning towards youth and inexperience. There should be some way to learn from our elders, in order to avoid making some of the same stupid mistakes. Despite Hilary’s flaws, she knows and has been shaped by some of the forces against which Barack will have to test his naivete. Could he learn from her, appoint her as an advisor? Why all this struggle to be the figure-head? There are many people in government who are wise and not so wise. Between the worldviews of each person involved is the shifting center of power. The outward forms and policies can hold it up but what is government really but our desire for justice created in a business-like form? The question is if that form always has to corrupt that desire, or if we might reach a new understanding of form? What would a truly representative body politic look like? They could represent themselves without interest groups if and only if people were willing to have plural identities that are not so rigidly defined. How would this happen? 

Hillary gets angry about Barack’s tactics of sending mass mailings. “This is not the ‘New Politics’ that he uses in his speeches… Makes him appear to have a plan when he does not.” She seems so angry. “Undermining core Democratic principles… (of universal healthcare) realizing Harry Truman’s dream.” “Tactics that are right out of Karl Rove’s playbook… gives aid and comfort to the special interests… Shame on you Barack Obama.”  During the Texas debate, Obama frequantly uses words like “defining moment,” and “historic change.” He uses shock tactics and manipulative lyrics to sway the dreams of the American people. Hillary is a bold, sometimes emotional and pragmatic speaker. But at least she is less manipulative than Barack. I am not cool with him anymore. What separates his rhetoric from that of GW Bush? “Washington has become a place where ideas go to die… taking back our government.” He speaks but he doesn’t know what he’s doing. In the most recent Ohio debate, Barack again comes off like a ponderous and long- winded jerk. So smug, I don’t trust him at all. I’m glad that Hillary is finally getting to speak for herself, she seems to be rising to the level of his rhetoric. 

Even when lobbed a huge smiley ball by the interviewer in the Ohio debate- “how do you feel about going up against McCain” because you obviously will… Barack doesn’t even pick up on it. I suppose this could be to his credit, but he keeps the debate on the differences between himself and Hillary. “There is nothing rational in politics.” Race is “still always on the table.” “I get impatient with politics as a game, as a sport. If you want to change it, you have to not become a part of it.” Barack is “not going to play those games.” Michelle Obama is a fascinating political person. In interviews, she barely conceals her hostility to all forms of political manoevering. “Balancing act of women and family.” Oh my god, all the (middle-class) mothers “they don’t get to see their ballet recitals…” The most interesting part of this interview was when O’Brien asked Michelle whether or not she resented giving up her career to support her husband. Michelle sort of wavered before saying uncomfortably, “I don’t really have time to think about that, I’m kinda busy.” Great stuff. “But her pride visibly chafes at being asked to subsume her personality, to make herself seem duller and less independent than she is… like someone who has spent her entire life gainging purchase now being asked to sell something and finding it slightly beneath her.” Maybe she should run for president. That would be interesting. 

Sexism towards Hillary… “Her cackle, her cleavage.” Unflattering photographs, facial wrinkles, criticisms of her outfits or hairstyles. “Instead of experience, we want hope.” This eagerness to find fault with her betrays the political machine wich hopes to replace George Bush with another broadly popular, easy-going and lyrical speaker. It is not so much sexism as an attempt to destroy her strong- leader image. Because a woman has a body and men don’t in common parlance, she is vulnerable to these attacks only so much as voters don’t recognize them for the shallow attacks that they are. Hillary thinks she can fight the Republicans, “It will happen.” The Realistic vs. Romantic worldviews article paints a vote for Hillary as one for “hard- eyed realism.”

  On the other hand, Obama supporters are mostly idealists, says this article. “What you want is to fall in love.” Barack is going to “root out terrorists in Pakistan and get serious about Musharraf.” He has only ideals whereas Hilary has real, practical ideas. “Hillary believes, to the core of her political being, that what changes peoples lives are government programs… Her command of detail about these is prodigous.” Not to say that she is perfect, or a great candidate even. But I appreciate her level-headed mellowness as contrasted to Barack. I just wish that the choices were more complicated, that a vote didn’t have to so neatly sum up your identity like that… 

I hope McCain doesn’t win. That would be awful but I still feel distant, a bit of anomie. Why? Because I want to run away to another country? To forget my roots and the pain of my past? I have researched the American political system more in these past months than ever before in my life, I feel like an informed voter but still when it comes down to checking the ballot, I find that I don’t care. To me, America and I are like estranged family members. The shock of seeing your home-land become the aggressor and bomb Iraq nightly in a fuzzy green picture on the evening news… is still with me and will not leave for awhile, the endless list of the dead, the flags waving, the little boy in the hallway saying “fuck Saddam, let’s nuke ‘em.” When one breaches that trust, that child-like faith in the goodness of the people around onesself, all bets are off. So, here perhaps lies the clue to my link with Arabic and with the Middle East. Having become estranged from my own country, I am packing my backpack to join the other side, the victims. Who says this makes sense, or that I could change course now, even if I wanted to? I am still blinded my anger and deep hurt. Go to hell, America, you have been exiling ‘brown’ people there for centuries. I don’t want to join your civil service, nor do I want to teach you Arabic. I am leaving and maybe someday, you will realize what you have lost, one dot, one voter, one little girl.