Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Jeremiah Wright, MLK, black theology & Obama (1)

I could not be more indifferent, nay, even contemptuous, of the Obama-Wright “scandal” as a political football. Since John Edwards dropped out of the race, this campaign cycle has been devoid of content, reduced to the manipulation of the voting public on the basis of personalities and superficial symbolic issues. We are guinea pigs in a high-stakes experiment in electoral market research. The union of electoral politics and the advertising industry is hardly a novel subject for research, but the accelerated irrationality of American politics on the threshold of the final breakdown of American democracy is cause for even more alarm.

For those of you inclined towards social theory, here’s one reference that crosses this issue with the work of the Frankfurt School on the culture industry:

Adorno, Theodor W. "Opinion Research and Publicness (Meinungsforschung und Offentlichkeit)", translated with an introduction by Andrew J. Perrin & Lars Jarkko, Sociological Theory, vol. 23, no. 1, March 2005, pp. 116-123.

For a recent diagnosis of the American disorder, see:

Sargis, John. “The American Celebration of Democracy,” The International Journal of Inclusive Democracy, vol. 4, no. 2, April 2008.

Let us remember that prior to Super-Tuesday, focus groups, assembled by “experts” (most notably campaign consultant Frank Luntz, a Republican) in analyzing the minutiae of audience response to the slightest political gestures, showed a highly favorable attitude toward Hillary Clinton, including the response of black voters charmed by her rhetoric on race. Obama’s television commercials for Super-Tuesday constituted the most brilliant manipulation of political visual imagery I've seen since Leni Riefenstal. But look how the symbolic fortunes of both candidates have seesawed in only two months. The black electorate dropped Clinton like a hot potato and she and her supporters were forced to pander shamelessly to white racist sensibilities in order to stay in the race, irreparably damaging the Clintons’ reputation in Black America, a disenchantment long overdue.

This is not to downplay the fundamental fraudulence of Obama’s campaign, his obviously superior basic decency and progressive past notwithstanding. I am a firm practitioner of the depressing principle of the lesser-of-two-evils, so nothing I say here I think matters in the slightest in choosing a candidate. However, what seems to matter to a nation of brainless couch potatoes is another story, yet the underlying ideological structure of even that is a tabooed subject for public discourse. Both the detractors and defenders of Obama’s pastor Jeremiah Wright have missed the boat.

There is, of course, a fair amount of cynicism about Wright and Obama not predicated on white America’s exaggerated outrage.

Obama Is No King” by Christopher Hitchens, SLATE, Monday, April 7, 2008
(Today, the national civil rights pulpit is largely occupied by second-rate shakedown artists.)

On April 7 Lenni Brenner ( circulated a hilarious put-down entitled “Obama's Constitution, His Pastor, & His Unbelieving Mom In Heaven”. It is not yet posted among his online essays, but hopefully it will be added before too long.

Brenner’s point of departure is this article:

Obama Suggests Jesus Christ Not the Only Way to Heaven” by Jennifer Riley, Christian Post Reporter, March 27, 2008.

The dominance of faith-based electoral politics is a bottomless swamp. The real questions cannot be posed, because both Obama's supporters and detractors have a vested interest in avoiding them—more fundamentally they do not even understand them. Obama is a middle class progressive community activist turned mainstream politician on the make in a neoliberal, i.e. anti-working-class, Democratic Party. The nature of this transformation is the fundamental question. While people fuss over his choice of a pastor, they can't and won't ask the more interesting question as to why the biracial offspring of a white atheist mother found Jesus and joined an Afrocentric church—let alone any Christian church, its political orientation notwithstanding. The sincerity of middle class progressive activism and this particular transformation may be impossible to determine sans telepathic access to personal motivation, yet there is enough to be disgusted by without impugning Obama’s personal or political motives. Perhaps, though, Obama as progressive community activist in the bosom of an Afrocentric Jesus is not so different from Obama as Democratic presidential candidate bending over backwards to placate white people in his effort to gain the top position in the management of the neoliberal political order.

No comments: