Fables of the Preconstruction

So, for the record, I think Obama is going to win in two weeks. Sure, it might not happen, I’m not stupid enough to be complacent, but that’s the scenario I choose to believe in and will continue, in my little way, to work for. Further, I think that when that happens, it will be momentous. We’ll all go nuts for a day or so, and I dare say, not a few someones somewhere will be humming “Happy Days are Here Again.” If that happens in some form or another, it won’t last long. Historic yes, but an Obama victory is going to be final battle in a long war. The losers in that war won’t go quietly, and the stage it all plays out on will be left barely standing by the time it’s over.

Because, for a group of folks that claim that they don’t believe in history too much, Cheney, Bush & Henchmen, Ltd., assisted and applauded by herds of other assorted lead actors and minor character players during their whole pillaging, lurching Republican TransMillenial Epochal Bender, sure have brought an end to the party that belies that claim. 

It depends on who you talk to whether you buy that

1) Chimpco really was hellbent on bringing the whole thing, the party, the administration, the government, the economy, the country, down in flames around themselves (remember, Crawfordis just down the road apiece from Waco):


2) maybe they did at last realize the jig was up, a change was indeed gonna come, and so they just resorted to the standardized scorched earth exit strategy, intent on hamstringing the coming Obama administration as much as possible. Either path of intent, or maybe a combination of both, brings us to the fine state of shambles we find the country in as they leave the stage. 

Of course, we’ll be dealing with McCain/Pailin’s contributions in the third and final act. You’ve got to wonder what will be left to hand over to President Obama by January 20, 2009. Even as that new day dawns, we’ll all still be breathing the acrid smoke left in the wake of McCain’s March to the Sea: a whipped, snarling bunch of opposition voters, the Republican Base, losers on the wrong side of history, their every resentment, every supposed inequity, every lizard-brained shred of paranoia turned up to 11, watching their defeated leaders ride off into the sunset.

With that semi-post-Republicapocalyptic scenario in mind, I imagine the the Bush/Obama transition of power bearing a figurative similarity to a long-ago incident involving Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry, recounted in Nick Tosches’Country: The Twisted Roots of Rock ‘n’ Roll:

Since the beginning, Jerry demand to close every show he appeared in. In 1958 Alan Freed insisted that Lewis precede Chuck Berry in a show. They still talk of that show, how Jerry Lee had the crowd screaming and rushing the stage, how he took a Coke bottle of petrol from his jacket pocket and doused his piano with one hand as the other hand banged out “Whole Lot of Shakin’ Going On,” how he set the piano aflame, his hands still riding the keys like a madman as the kids went finely and wholly berserk with the frenzy of it, and how Jerry Lee stalked backstage, stinking of lighter fluid and wrath, turned to Chuck Berry, and said, real calm, as the sound of the kids going crazy and stamping and yelling for more shook the walls, “Follow that, n*gger.”

So in the wake of this ugly, shameless, mendacious, and cynical failure of government, how does a winning ticket start making change? How does President Obama begin, and with what end in mind? What, if anything, gets fixed, what’s left till next year, what’s left for us to keep bearing? The economy? Iraq? Afghanistan? Can we get some things redressed, repealed, rolled back, reformed, restored, like, you know, the Bill of Rights?

At best, it’s going to be a daunting challenge of a start, and it’s not like there won’t already be a host ofnarratives being spoonfed to the public. And you’re right, this isn’t even taking into account the likelihood of major legal challenges to the legitimacy of an Obama victory in the polls. Or for that matter, the complacency of entrenched incumbents in Congress, Democratic as well as Republican, folks who have not, for the most part, impressed any of us.

None of that lets us off the hook though. We are the voters, the ones who worked for change, and we are beholden to ask:what do we got on the spacecraft that works? I think the answer is: quite a lot, actually.

Well, there’sus. Whether we got here riding the whole way on the Obama hope train, or whether we started out with Hillary, or Edwards, or Kucinich even, we all got here because we wanted things to change, we wanted to at least throw the bums out and try and start over. We, including thousands of first-time voters, participated in record numbers in the primaries, in the caucuses, and now in early voting, and whoever we started out with, we now stand behind Obama.

So, there’s us, and there’s him. If the Obama administration is even half as forward-thinking as we’d all like to think they might be, half as competent as his campaign effort was, they’ll do their best to keep us engaged at a level above and beyond merely working for his 2012 re-election. What this engagement will look like, I’m not sure, but do you really think they will just take the White House and say, “Okay, thanks for the ride. You can go back home now?” Even if they are short-sighted enough to try that, I just don’t see the Democratic electorate returning en masse to their couches and waiting for the next round ofAmerican Idol. I’d like to believe that some of the activism, some of the movement mentality, will stick.

I think if he’s lucky, if we’re lucky, Obama won’t lose ground
during his first term. And that might be all we can hope for. That
might be enough to qualify as a success. I’d like to believe we help make that happen by not sitting idly
by during that first term, that we will push back against the inevitable
compromises, against offshore drilling, against more top-down bailout
schemes, and that we’ll push for substantive progress toward renewable energy, for
public works, for job creation.

And if we don’t push, if we don’t act, who are we then? To have gone what we’ve gone through, hell, just in this past year, not to mention the last decade, and to have won the presidency back, only to switch back off? I just don’t see it. Not all of us anyway. I don’t think we have that kind of time, and I sure as hell don’t think we are going to have that kind of ease. 

What do you all think? In the wake of the bailout cave in, is it too late for some remnant ofProgressive Shock Doctrine style change? Historical shifts don’t often come in huge sudden sweeps. There are large structural changes, institutional changes, sure, but there are also smaller, rippling contingencies that move individual agents to action, and those individuals change other individuals, and sometimes they even come together in concert.

Here again, Obama’s recent soft-populist language goes off in another
direction entirely, not targeting much of anyone, but instead invoking
a sense of natural order in which all of us live up to our
responsibilities, in service of a sense of national purpose. It is an
ethics based on a sense of mutual obligation and engagement, embodied
in the ever-expanding circle of Obama’s own campaign. And in this
sense, it is deeply reflective of the best in American populism, what
the historian Lawrence Goodwyn called, “the movement culture”
characterized by “collective self-confidence,” and the active
engagement of millions in the practice of democracy.

Populism without Pitchforks, Mark Schmitt


4 thoughts on “Fables of the Preconstruction

  1. I couldn’t agree with you more. That moment on the Daily Show gave me chills and I’m glad that someone else noticed it.

  2. Wise words. I couldn’t put it on paper but I’ve felt the same. For this election, i’ve worked the local Dem phone banks, walked neighborhoods handing out info and talking to folks and volunteered to be an election judge in a neighboring precinct. Prior to this, all I did was vote. Seeing how bad things can get over the last 8 years, I won’t let an election go by without my involvement again as long as I am able and I’ll bitch all the way until the next election about anything that bothers me.

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