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Letter to an Old Friend: With One Day to Go, It’s Obama for This Radical

February 4, 2008, 1:46 pm

Dear Old Friend,

Thanks for your passionate email yesterday about Barack Obama. I keep missing something about him that makes everyone else excited and ready to cast this historic vote: perhaps it is that I haven’t seen him in person, as so many have. But I would also say that my problem is more intellectual than visceral. I think that, in his policy positions, he is sending all the signals that he will not depart from neoliberal Democratic policies. In particular, as Paul Krugman wrote today in the New York Times, he is advocating a national health policy that only covers people who elect to be part of it. This is a biggie for me, since we know that a range of people will make the choice not to be covered when they are poor, or unable to understand how to complete the paperwork, or –like a lot of healthy young freelancers with great educations we know who were raised with good health care, simply don’t believe that they will become sick. And then we will chastise and penalize such people for having made an unwise or an uneducated decision rather than enroll them and care for them. This strikes me as awful, uncompassionate and no departure from the bourgeois Progressive ideologies that the twentieth century welfare state in the United States was founded on, and that have brought us to this pass in the first place.

In other words, Obama misses the point of a national health care policy entirely. It isn’t just that every American doesn’t have access to the same rational choices, it’s that good health care shouldn’t be about choice. And national policy shouldn’t be about individuals. This is a fundamentally conservative position, and it needs to be recognized as such.

That said, I am going to follow your lead, dear friend — and the lead of many people whose opinions and values I respect, and vote for Obama anyway. This is my own version of Hope. I can’t escape it that practically everyone I love and care for (you and the range of voters in your household included) believes an Obama presidency is a move in the right direction. I can’t make the argument that Hillary is demonstrably “better” since she and Bill were the architects of the neo-liberal turn in the first place. You are right: welfare as we knew it — the system that put women in college instead of putting them to work cleaning the streets — flawed as it was, was dismantled under Clintonian neoliberalism, and has relegated hundreds of thousands of families to permanent poverty and homelessness. In place of education, we offer women marriage training programs as a strategy to pull themselves out of destitution. Furthermore, I very much fear that a McCain-Clinton contest could become a centrist struggle for independent voters, and a competition to swing liberal Republican and conservative Democratic votes into the opposite party. This could really solidify national policy in the ugly middle, and leave those of us pushing for leftist reforms out in the cold. No one could miss how different a Democratic ticket with Obama on the top is from the old, stale political contests where both parties are fighting for four percent of the vote in three states, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida.

So no, I don’t believe in Obama the way others do — I hate the “Change and Hope” rhetoric that is utterly devoid of any plan for what changes will occur and what we are hoping for from this man. You have to go to his website — have a computer, be literate — to go beyond a mass media display that has crafted Obama as our latest Man for All Seasons. But I would like to believe as others do, and I don’t suppose I will have a chance to even try if he isn’t nominated.

So here goes! I’ll do what I can to get the Nutmeg State’s 48 democratic votes into the Obama column.

Love, and thanks for the conversation,

your devoted friend,

The Tenured Radical

PS. And yes, I wanted very much to vote for the first woman President. Very much.

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