From today's New York Times
President-elect Barack Obama has begun an effort to tamp down what his aides fear are unusually high expectations among his supporters, and will remind Americans regularly throughout the transition that the nation’s challenges are substantial and will take time to address.
If anyone is in doubt, consider the selection of Rahm Emmanuel for Chief of Staff and the possible choice of Larry Summers for Treasury.
This is a moment of truth for Kossacks and all the other progressive activists who worked their tails off to elect Obama.
After the election-night ecstasy in which literally millions of people took to the streets all across the country in celebration, how do we understand what Obama is doing now, and what does it mean for our future work.
Some, who will fancy themselves "realists," will insist that these appointments, like the choice of Biden, are just further evidence of how politically canny Obama is. Or, even if they feel some measure of personal disappointment, they will accept these choices as reflections of the grubby neccessities of doing politics.
For those who hold these views, the obvious thing to do next is to get some sleep and to start all over again. That is to say to start thinking, maybe not this week or this month, but soon, about how to elect more Democrats in 2010. For these folks, and they make up a big part of this community, there are no politics except electoral politics. Elections are a Merry-Go-Round that one never gets off. From this perspective practically anything can be justified in the name of political expediency and anyone who insists on cleaving to their progressive political objectives can be dismissed as a "purity troll."
This diary is not for those people. It is for those people for whom participation in the Obama campaign was a means to specific ends: an end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the larger imperial project that got us into those wars, a serious response to the global climate crisis, universal health care, and so on.
We need to clear our heads. The election of Obama and the ecsatic response of people everywhere to this election should not obscure the fundamental fact that Obama, as much as any of his predecessors, is fundamentally loyal to the system of corporate rule and the project of US global domination. That system and that project are in deep trouble, as reflected in financial crisis and in the quagmire in Iraq. More important than either of these though is the crisis of legitmacy reflected internationally in the unwillingness of most of the rest of the world to follow the US's leadership in Iraq, and domestically in the deepening lack of faith in the "democratic" institutions of the country.
The willingness of our corporate rulers to support the candidacy of someone like Barack Obama is a reflection of just how deep they understand this crisis to be. Obama's chief virtue, from their perspective, is his potential, simply by virtue of being elected, to relegitimize the US before the world, and to relegitimize the political system in the eyes of huge swathes of the populace.
All this, however, involved a danger: the danger of raising expectations. We saw this in the streets on Tuesday night. Millions of people who have always felt like this system would never take their interests into account now expect that it will. These are the expectations that Obama is now seeking to "tamp down." In language that deliberately obscures the antagonistic social interests involved, these hopes are being framed as "unrealistic" expectations that Obama will be able to quickly solve "the nation's problems."
So what should our response be?
First, we must refuse to allow our hopes to be "tamped down" by Obama, his surrogates, the media or anyone else. It is OUR job to keep all these dangerous and unrealistic hopes alive.
Second, we must understand that Obama is not going to deliver on many, if not most of the hopes that his election has raised unless he is forced to by revived social movements that are willing to disrupt business as usual and threaten the social peace in order to win the better world that is our right.
We need to take the enrgy that we saw over the course of the Obama campaign, and especially the spirit that literally overflowed the confines of politics as usual and spilled into the streets on Tuesday night, and turn it into a genuinely independent force.
There is much talk now about Obama using the enthusiasm unleashed by his campaign as a force for advancing "his agenda." But what the prospects of appointments of the likes of Rahm and Summers should tell us is how completely inadequate to the needs of the moment that agenda is likely to actually be.
Our job, therefore, must not be to simply act as loyal foot soldiers putting pressure on Congress to enact whatever legislative initiatives come out oft he Obama White House, nor to just elect more Dems in 2010. Our job must be to assert a broader, more radical agenda, that demands fulfillment of the hopes and expectations that this campaign stirred among the disenfranchised.
We should expect that in taking on this job that we will be attacked for making Obama's job more difficult, for a lack of loyalty to Obama and the like. To which we should plead guilty. Our job is not to make Obama's job easier or to be loyal, it is to win the concrete changes that are neccesary for a better world.
The greatest advances for progressive politics in the 20th century took place in the 1930s and 1960s not because of peoples loyalty to FDR, JFK or LBJ, but rather precisely because of their refusal to settle for having their hopes and dreams clipped. It was the existence of unruly movements, of workers seizing factories and going on strike, of the unemployed laying seige to City Halls, of young people facing down police dogs and water hoses, of urban rebellions, and campuses shut down by student strikes, that forced these leaders to make the concessions to those movements that we consider that centerpieces of the New Deal and the Great Society.
That then is our job in the coming weeks, months and years -- to relive that experience of collective power that we felt in the streets on Tuesday night by taking to the streets again and again to demand that the troops be brought home, not in 16 months, but NOW; that the 12 or however many million undocumented people living in the shadows in this country be granted full and equal citizenship rights, not years down the road, but NOW; that free and universal healthcare be guaranteed NOW.
Our job is not to join in tamping down peoples righteous hopes, nor to be apologists for the timidity of elected officials, but rather to turn those hopes into an unquenchable fire that will not be stopped until they are realized.
99 and half just won't do.