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Triangulation: The Next Generation

vastleft's picture

[Welcome, Crooks & Liars readers!]

Why is it that Barack Obama’s rhetoric sounds so strangely familiar?

Oh, I remember. There was this charming young fellow from Arkansas – what was the name of that town? Anyway, he had this awfully nice idea, about a “third way” alternative to right-left partisanship. I wonder what became of him and that darling wife of his....

Wait, yes, it’s all coming back to me. She's pursued that third-way agenda herself, in the Senate and in a run for the presidency.

And so has the man from Honolulu/Indonesia/The South Side. (If this path doesn’t lead to the White House, it certainly qualifies him for one of those “New Sanfrankota” ads.)

So, which of our frontrunners do I prefer? To use the essential word of Obama’s generation: whatever.

* * *

Anyone who thinks post-partisanship is a good campaign strategy can take solace in the similarities between Barack’s and the Big Dog’s charisma-coated chatter. It’s a proven vote-getter.

And anyone who rued Bill Clinton’s “triangulation” should feel a little uneasy.

Though no one seems to have noticed, the Republican brand is now at a very low ebb.

It’s an extraordinary opportunity to rewrite the vocabulary of the national conversation. And yet, instead of reshaping the national dialogue, The Great Likable Hope is putting a coat of gloss on the rightwing’s prodigiously destructive framing.

I mean, sure, that’s a fine idea. Why else would the Beltway pundits and helpful Republicans always recommend it?

Choosing this moment to sing Kumbaya with the GOP reassures the growing post-Boomer population that there is no institutional problem with the Conservative Movement, that they haven’t been lied to about, well, everything: “family values,” “the war on terror,” “trickle-down,” “the death tax,” etc., etc.

Living under the sway of those narratives has been such a boon for America, it would be terribly rude to awaken us from the dream that says, at the very worst, Republicans are no guiltier than Democrats and that we have no reason to doubt their sincerity in helping heal the nation’s wounds. Or that there even are any wounds bigger than what you’d pick up in a food fight.

Suggestion: if you think our problems are properly characterized that way, you have my blessing to go play Guitar Hero the rest of the day and leave the discussion to people who have, I don't know, noticed anything that's happened the past fucking seven years.

Could someone please explain how non-partisanship — fighting the urge to fight — is a good defense against big, powerful, well-funded sociopaths?

Last I heard, that was called "taking a dive." And though honeyed talk might get you the gig, it ain't going to win any fights.

Now, of course the Obamaites will tell us: "Your days are just about over. Now that's a hard motherfuckin' fact of life. But it's a fact of life your ass is gonna hafta get realistic about. See this business is filled to the brim with unrealistic motherfuckers…. How many fights you think you got left in you anyway? Two? Boxers don't have an old timer's day. You came close, but you never made it, and if you were gonna make it, you woulda made it before now…. Night of the fight, you might feel a slight sting. That's pride fuckin' with you. Fuck pride! Pride only hurts, it never helps. You fight through that shit."

That's basically the message, isn't it? Obama wants us to be his champions, but he doesn't want to be ours.

Remember us, the people who fought the conservatives in the 1960s and 1990s? Well fuck us. Fuck our pride, and fuck our fights against racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia. Fuck our defense of the separation of church and state.

Fuck everything that harshes the mellow.

'Cause it will all be worth it when some NASCAR dad thinks nice thoughts about Obama... before he punches the chad for whichever authoritarian daddy the elephants serve up in November.

* * *

I've tried my best to preserve the fantasy that it's possible to push Obama into seizing the opportunity his mediagenic demeanor might hand him. But I suppose I shouldn't hold my breath.

Among other things, he's calculatedly disassociated himself from netroots, the progressive bloggers who have hammered away and – I think – helped break through the mainstream mythology about Iraq, FISA, and much more.

Whether the lack of affinity between us is at his peril or ours remains to be seen.

Then there’s the very real possibility that we’ll all be frolicking with ponies.

Yes, the “hope” stuff is chill — the new millennium’s answer to the Boomers’ cool.

Silly us, we thought “big chill” was a pejorative!

As audaciously awesome as hope is, is it really much of a differentiator from the Clintons and their compromising centrism?

* * *

A major fancy of post-Boomers is choosing the most pleasing “skin” for their cellphones and web pages. It’s a wonderful reflection on them that Obama’s skin unreservedly pleases them.

One might grudgingly acknowledge that it also reflects well on their parents, who fought hard for civil rights in the 1960s and beyond. Oh, sorry, that was just our shameful divisive partisanship. Forget I said anything.

Obama is, without a doubt, a new-look politician and a brilliant orator. But the difference between him and Hillary is, it seems to me, skin deep.

She’s got hard-knocks going for her, and he’s got pizazz. Both are helpful, neither is sufficient.

Neither candidate has galvanized thought against today’s ruthless, valueless, corrupt, and incompetent Republican Party.

Neither candidate has recognized the implications of the public's deep distress at the Bush-enabling 110th Congress.

In 2004, some of us wondered why the public didn't catch on to the obvious advantages of the Democrats. In 2008, some of us wonder why the Democratic frontrunners don't catch up to the progressivism of the American public.

To those who see Obama as a visionary alternative to the tired politics of the 1960s and 1990s, I offer this sage word: whatever.

I have no such advice to Hillary Clinton’s supporters. They’ve seen this movie before. They know how it ends. I just wish they’d notice that a more interesting, more challenging alternative is playing in theatre #3.

Well, seeing how little difference there is between the two leading candidates does have its benefits, as this agitated Boomer settles into the rocking chair and — for once — feels downright chill.

* * *

Note: DailyKos cross-post, with a very lively discussion, is here.

* * *

Note: I wrote the following to a friend who has been leaning toward Obama, to explain why I'm writing items like the one above...

I’d really hoped that Obama was going to be an upgrade to Hillary. That didn’t seem to be too starry-eyed a place to be setting the bar, y’know?

So, watching him in this campaign has been a huge disappointment, ending with methinks the inevitable analysis that as a president (as opposed to as a candidate), Obama has a little more upside and a lot more downside than Hillary. He appears to be somewhat more electable, but he’s also providing less air-cover for himself and for others to run and govern as progressives. At best, he’s Bill Clinton all over again – popular, better than a sociopathic Republican, and frustratingly more beholden to being a people-pleaser than being a change agent (other than, perhaps, stripping the word “change” of most of its meaning).

If Hillary is nominated and loses, we’ll have a lot to regret. Lord knows, we don’t want another sociopath. But I put the blame on Obama for being a bullshit artist who pissed on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to move the country to the left and not on us who dared to notice.

This is not Nader 2000. People like me are dedicated Democrats, not purist vanity/protest voters. But Obama isn’t a dedicated Democrat. He’s a dedicated Obamacrat, and to use another word from his generation, that sucks.

The evidence is in, as it was after New Hampshire, that Obama has to answer the call to seize the progressive mantle. If he can stop gazing at the mirror (or is it Ronald Reagan’s picture?) for a couple of minutes, he might notice that there is an energized progressive movement just waiting for someone to take them to the Promised Land.

Of course, the Kool-Aid drinkers in the Obama Fan Base think that we’re asking him to rip a picture of the Pope or something. But we’re just asking for him to run as a Democrat in a time when Democrat is by far the preferred brand.

How do you run as a Democrat? You present yourself as a proud representative of the party of ideas that work, that are sane, and that are humane. You point out that the other party hotwired America, went on a bender, and left it a smoking wreck. You’ve got the Jaws of Life, just like FDR did, and you’re going to save us from that wreck and build a better, alternative-energy car like Kennedy built a moonship.
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bringiton's picture
Submitted by bringiton on

Read this over at Kos before coming here, highly recommend the comment thread there (and little else, Kos is already shopworn, this post from Corrente is the best on the entire site). Encouraging to see both that this line of argument has been honed so fine there is no wiggle room for the Obamabots to refute it, good job, and also that the comments agreeing with you are all intelligent and well thought through. Could be there is a growing awareness that at the very least, Obama needs to be challenged on just exactly what it is he’s planning to do with our country.

One revealing comment from an Obama supporter, without link because I don't want to give him any traffic, discloses a particularly odious and deliberate lie:

"In many ways, Bush is the most liberal president we have ever had with his belief that the US military can spread democracy around the world and his willingness to spend, spend, spend without regard to the deficit."

Whatever Bush did that was wrong is because he was too much of a liberal? Fabulous. Words have no meaning to these people, there are no concepts that can't be muddled and turned inside out. They love the Obama rhetoric precisely because it is empty, like the immensely popular zero-calorie artificial sweetener caffeine-free sodas. Tastes great, less filling. Unity means never having to say you’re sorry.

Great post, VL, thanks for this.

Anna Granfors's picture
Submitted by Anna Granfors on

(*whatever* that means.) :)

good post, VL!

whenever I see ObamaNation gathered, I see the nominally liberal young people I tried to talk politics with back in 2002/3, who would "tsk tsk" right along with me, and then segue right into dissecting last night's "The Apprentice", which was what they really wanted to talk about in the first place, anyway. oh, yeah...tragic about that Valerie Plame woman, but damn, did you see James get his ass READ last night?

oh, do we have work to do...

chicago dyke's picture
Submitted by chicago dyke on

and the way we're being drowned in the Unity meme

1. any sincere, real critique of bush's disatrous policies instantly reveals democratic complicity in them. from the invasion, to the failures of the occupation, the market much as i don't want to say it, bush didn't bring all that about alone. convincing voters to forgive republican has the added benefit of letting bush dogs and blue dogs rest easy.

2. the real money, corporate money, smelled the end of the republican brand some years ago. fundraising totals reflect this, where once we saw 80/20 in favor of the republicans in corporate donations, today that's been 'balanced' a bit more, and in some cases even to the great advantage (financially speaking) of dems. corporate money is 'real,' in the sense that you know they've got it, they'll give it to you in a steady stream so long as you keep them happy. by comparison, internet fundraising is a tiny and irregular tinkle, as are most "alternative" fundraising sources/groups.

2a. the corporate media has made it very clear that they want two things this year. a two-way horserace that is more akin to a romance novel than political race, and which sells to the largest possible audience, dumbed down to appease the principal that 'lowest common denominator = largest ad revenue.' they also want no discussion by candidates of such sins as right wing media bias, telco spying, or media consolidation. just like the dems, the media fears any conversation of "why bush's policies suck" because so many of them are like Joke Line- supporters and believers from the get go who are now being embarrassed daily by angry bloggers with the temerity to state facts and remember the past.

Unity is a 100% Village approved meme, and for no other reason than that, smart blog readers should shun and mock it.

shystee's picture
Submitted by shystee on

Inserted into one of his campaign updates today.

Obama's path to the nomination at this point runs through Democratic voters. And ultimately, while my absentee ballot will be mailed out Monday with his name checked off, I'm pessimistic that he can win. He has shown no proclivity for speaking in unambiguous progressive tones, and it could cost him the election.

1. Kos is letting everyone know he's voting for Obama in CA.

2. Saying that Obama might lose because he's not progressive enough. Even though Obama's fan base argues that his lack of progressivism is the key to his success.

Whatever, indeed, VL. Kickass post and way to stir shit up in the Big Orange House.

BTW: a post from over 2 years ago that foreshadows a lot of what is going on now.

Submitted by lambert on

It looks to me like they've all gone nuts, and now they've gone to Nevada and made it even more nutty. Too much zeal.

Shystee, read your post -- how long ago that seems. But this stands out. Of the liberal elitists, these points:

Elect Us Now, We’ll Stand up for You Later

Taking a Stand for what is Moral and Necessary is Political Suicide

Our Principles and Our Policies are too Complicated to Explain to the American People

That reads a lot like the Unity Pony to me.

It looks to me that with the OFB, Obama's got Liberal Elitist thinking backed with the ferocity of the rabble and a cult of personality. Not a pretty site.

Meanwhile, we, the (progressive) rabble, have been sidelined again. Just like Iraq, our only sin will be to have been right.

[x] Any (D) in the general. [ ] Any mullah-sucking billionaire-teabagging torture-loving pus-encrusted spawn of Cthulhu, bless his (R) heart.

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

... for the nice words, support in the DKos thread, and the further analysis.

Shystee, yes, you certainly saw this coming! For some folks, foresight is better than 20/20.

And that Kos quote suggests that we may be starting to get this message heard.

Submitted by lambert on

Since the Village is always wrong about everything -- except their own interest -- it makes sense to vote for whoever the Village hates most.

So, they hate Edwards the most.

But they hate Hillary next.

And they l-o-o-o-o-v-e Obama (at least right now). Kristol, Brooks, Brode--they all feel a little heat creeping back into their withered loins when they think of Obama in the Oval Office.

Why is that?

Honestly, it stuns me that this is how things are playing out for me. I was in "three good candidates" mode until Atrios alerted me to Obama's Social Security dogwhistle, and then .... Sigh.

And the treatment our famously free press -- not to mention the Obama Fan Base, who seem to be taking their cues from The Arkansas Project -- gave Hillary just made me want to storm the Village and demolish it all. And that's good, because it's something that needs to be done.

[x] Any (D) in the general. [ ] Any mullah-sucking billionaire-teabagging torture-loving pus-encrusted spawn of Cthulhu, bless his (R) heart.

Submitted by [Please enter a... (not verified) on

Obamabot or two. The stock answer goes a little something like this:

  • The adulation of The Village does not detract from, but rather is a reflection of, His Awesomeness.
  • His power has already transformed The Village! Just think of how much better they'll get once he's in office!
  • Of course they wouldn't turn on Him after the primaries. That would just make them look like hypocrites.


  • Submitted by [Please enter a... (not verified) on

    Permission to suggest that this word and all synonyms of a disparaging nature, be relegated to the same unmarked tomb in which we finally managed to bury "sheeple"?

    We are talking about folks who, it seems, are relatively new to (1) politics at all (2)politics online (3) political blogs (4) blogs which are not so much about blowing the trumpet for any given candidate but about encouraging candidates to talk about a certain set of issues, and in a certain way. (Constitutional Restoration, good. Torture, bad. Separation of church and state, good. Etc.)

    It has all the earmarks of a first love, and sometimes in the throes of this event you go a little crazy. Maybe it works out, maybe it doesn't, but even if it does work you then get to the stage of day-in-day-out living together. Then you calm down a little.

    We want to help newcomers to the experience get to Stage 2, not decide that one strikeout means the game is over. Bluntly, we need every Obama enthusiast to, at very least, show up in November and pull that D lever (damn, gonna have to update that metaphor one of these days now that lever machines are pretty well gone the way of tiddlywinks) for whoever the eventual nominee is.

    If they're just adrenaline junkies they may say fuck it all and set off on a quest to master Guitar Hero III. Or they may go looking for a new fix and join the Ron Paul campaign. Who knows. But we want every one we can get, to join in for the long haul.

    Wait till Nov. 10 when they realize that there ain't no They All Lived Happily Ever After to this story.... :)

    Submitted by lambert on

    ... though, I have to say, if you'd been out there bangin' in the trenches, you might have invented words of your own.

    [x] Any (D) in the general. [ ] Any mullah-sucking billionaire-teabagging torture-loving pus-encrusted spawn of Cthulhu, bless his (R) heart.

    Submitted by [Please enter a... (not verified) on

    worms. Not high on my list of favorite places for bangin'.


    I did back you up on the last go-round at Kos ya know. Got my TU back last week so if anybody needs trollraters fended off let me know.

    Submitted by lambert on

    I only troll-rated the guy who kept using the word "turd." Jesus.

    Well, if you want to jump in and club some baby seals bring some of those bright young people along, have at it. The threads I'm working are here.

    I do tit for tat. Hitters get hit; engagers get engaged....

    [x] Any (D) in the general. [ ] Any mullah-sucking billionaire-teabagging torture-loving pus-encrusted spawn of Cthulhu, bless his (R) heart.

    vastleft's picture
    Submitted by vastleft on

    ... but, gawd, the cultish devotion of much of the OFB really does deserve to be called out.

    If he went to the National Archives and peed on the Bill of Rights, they'd say it showed he was fluent with Constitutional law.

    Anna Granfors's picture
    Submitted by Anna Granfors on

    ...he was fluid with constitutional law. :)

    I just still don't GET Obama, and am still waiting for someone to enlighten me. not holding my breath, though.

    (and you'd think between the rampant disparagement of his empty "hope" and his Reagany missteps, the dope might show enough political acumen to actually ADDRESS these issues, in a way that might convince us...? again, my breath? not holding it.)

    Submitted by lambert on

    He's betting that by giving the big Fuck You to progressives, he can win the independents and the conservatives. It's a novel strategy in the primaries, which is why he's also trying to get Republicans to vote in Democratic primaries, if even for one day. And all the while bleating about Unity.

    Hope that's cynical enough.

    [x] Any (D) in the general. [ ] Any mullah-sucking billionaire-teabagging torture-loving pus-encrusted spawn of Cthulhu, bless his (R) heart.

    chicago dyke's picture
    Submitted by chicago dyke on

    those of us who were...less than certain that Big Dem Victory in 06 Would Bring Ponies!!1! well, we weren't so popular back them. and this part is Classic:

    Your exuses and enabling of the Republican Agenda smack of self-serving cowardice. We know enough of human nature to know that people will always take the easiest route, especially if it benefits them personally. Please prove us wrong.

    Betraying through inaction the very groups of Americans you claim to champion (Women, Minorities, Soldiers, the Poor and/or Unlucky, Americans who do not believe in unnecessary and immoral wars) and then demanding their vote is unacceptable.

    Fuckin A,

    The Rabble


    That’s basically the message, isn’t it? Obama wants us to be his champions, but he doesn’t want to be ours.

    Perfect. It captures his effrontery perfectly.