We've all pored over the numbers, and we've been amazed by the results. We've seen the stunning ground mobilization
that led to yesterday's victory for Barack Obama in Iowa. As Nathan Newman says, this is a new movement, a parallel coalition to the progressive movement that has risen online. And it's worth taking a look at it.
Obviously one aspect of it is generational
, which we knew going in was probable, but which many felt was risky.
Toward the end, many voters broke for Edwards. However, more voters broke for Obama, specifically new and young voters. Tonight, Obama won because he did something many campaigns have claimed they would do in the past, but never until now had never actually accomplished: he turned out young voters and new voters in record-smashing numbers. This has long been the holy grail of progressive politics, and until now no one had been able to pull it off. Well, Obama pulled it off. That is a remarkable an historic accomplishment. That is why he won.
It's also a strongly Democratic movement, and this is counter to Obama's rhetoric of bringing the country together around shared ideals. He would have won if independents were eliminated, and he actually brought a lot more self-identified Democrats
into the fold. He created a group of young, educated, liberal, middle and upper middle class voters and turned them into a bloc that could be combined with the traditional Democratic voting classes. And the trans-partisan, post-partisan rhetoric binds these people together, in the hopes that everyone can set aside differences and work for a better nation, which is a self-actualizing progressive nation.
This is where the rubber meets the road for Obama. I have wavered back to being inspired by his rhetorical flourish, his belief that the country is actually closer together than farther apart, that we all have a stake in one another. He speaks the right language of healing
to a nation that is battered and broken. He's a good man for this time. And he clearly has the potential to be transformational on a global stage
at a time when America's name around the world is mud.
But the key moment for a possible Obama Presidency comes when that first piece of his agenda is blocked by a recalcitrant Republican minority that will have their heels dug in, or (worse) by Bush Dogs who still glory in knifing a progressive agenda. We are called "cynics" by believing the stated goals of a 40-year conservative movement, to destroy government, to make it so that progress can never happen, to stymie any and all efforts in that direction. There is absolutely no reason to think that they will not continue in this manner. It's the only thing they're successful at, and their message discipline and ability to stick together is near-legendary. The media isn't likely to make them pay a price for it, either.
So what happens then? Obama is setting himself up as a kind of Great Man of history, able to bridge partisan divides. In a normal situation, perhaps like the Illinois legislature, perhaps he can work together and get a lot done
. There is no comparison between this and retrenched Republicans who work better in the minority. This coalition that he has put together has bought into Obama as a transcendant figure, able to move the country in a new direction. What happens when he fails to deliver on some signature issue? What happens to that coalition? Will they still believe in him? Is Obama capable of using that coalition to mount massive public pressure to implement his agenda? Or will it wilt and become despondent on the lack of movement even with their movement-builder in the White House?
I worry about this. It reminds me of the Monty Python sketch about the architect who conjures up buildings through hypnosis
Voice Over But even more modern building techniques are being used on an expanding new town site near Peterborough; here the Amazing Mystico and Janet can put up a block of flats by hypnosis in under a minute.
Mystico removes his cloak, gloves and top hat and hands them to Janet, who curtsies. He then makes several passes. Cut to stock film of flats falling down reversed so that they leap up. Cut back to Mystico and Janet. She hands him back his things as they make their way to their car, a little Austin 30.
Voice Over The local Council here have over fifty hypnosis-induced twenty-five story blocks, put up by El Mystico and Janet. I asked Mr Ken Verybigliar the advantages of hypnosis compared to other building methods.
Cut to a man in a drab suit.
SUPERIMPOSED CAPTION: 'MR K. V. B. LIAR'
Mr Verybigliar Well there is a considerable financial advantage in using the services of El Mystico. A block, like Mystico Point here, (indicating a high-rise block behind him) would normally cost in the region of one-and-a-half million pounds. This was put up for five pounds and thirty bob for Janet.
Voice Over But the obvious question is are they safe?
Cut to an architect's office. The architect at his desk. Behind him on the wall are framed photos of various collapsed buildings. He is a well-dressed authoritative person.
SUPERIMPOSED CAPTION: 'MR CLEMENT ONAN, ARCHITECT TO THE COUNCIL'
Architect Of course they're safe. There's absolutely no doubt about that. They are as strong, solid and as safe as any other building method in this country provided of course people believe in them.
Cut to a council flat. On the wall there is a picture of Mystico.
Tenant Yes, we received a note from the Council saying that if we ceased to believe in this building it would fall down.
Voice Over You don't mind living in a figment of another man's imagination?
Tenant No, it's much better than where we used to live.
Voice Over Where did you used to live?
Tenant We had an eighteen-roomed villa overlooking Nice.
Voice Over Really, that sounds much better.
Tenant Oh yes - yes you're right.
Cut to stock shot of block falling down in slow motion. Cut back to tenant and wife inside. Camera shaking and on the tilt.
Obama's coalition is strong, safe, and has the potential for greatness - as long as people believe in him. I feel he is a progressive, and that his passion for organizing
will serve him well in building this new coalition. But when the strongest advocates for progressive change reside in a different coalition, and when the vagaries of government action and inaction are very seldom well-explained, I fear that all the organizing in the world won't mean anything if people stop believing.
UPDATE: A pretty amazing quote, in the middle of this old Chicago Reader profile
Obama added that as important and inspiring as it was, the (Harold) Washington administration also let an opportunity go by. "Washington was the best of the classic politicians," Obama said. "He knew his constituency; he truly enjoyed people. That can't be said for a lot of politicians. He was not cynical about democracy and the democratic process--as so many of them are. But he, like all politicians, was primarily interested in maintaining his power and working the levers of power.
"He was a classic charismatic leader," Obama said, "and when he died all of that dissipated. This potentially powerful collective spirit that went into supporting him was never translated into clear principles, or into an articulable agenda for community change.
I hope that Obama can translate his charisma into an articulatable and realizable agenda.
Labels: 2008, Barack Obama, community organizing, conservatism, progressive movement